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venezuela crisis
August 19, 2019

The U.S. has opened up secret communications with Venezuelan socialist boss Diosdado Cabello, an alleged drug kingpin and the second most powerful person in Venezuela, after President Nicolás Maduro, The Associated Press reported late Sunday, citing a senior U.S. administration official. Cabello, 56, met with a U.S.-backed envoy in Caracas last month, the official said, though it isn't clear if Cabello is acting on Maduro's behalf or, as the official suggested, negotiating safety guarantees if he helps topple Maduro.

AP isn't reporting who Cabello is meeting with, but Axios said Sunday that National Security Council official Mauricio Claver-Carone has been communicating with Cabello through emissaries, and U.S. officials tell both Axios and AP that Cabello is among a handful of top Maduro officials who have secretly reached out to the U.S. An unidentified Cabello aide disputes that, telling AP that the U.S. has been chasing Cabello, and Cabello would only meet with U.S. officials with Maduro's permission. Cabello did not take part in April's failed uprising.

Trump, meanwhile, is getting frustrated that Maduro is still in power, and he has suggested publicly and pushed "more vividly" in private for the U.S. to set up a naval blockade along Venezuela's coast, five current and former officials tell Axios. "They added that to their knowledge the Pentagon hasn't taken this extreme idea seriously, in part because senior officials believe it's impractical, has no legal basis, and would suck resources from a Navy that is already stretched to counter China and Iran."

Trump "literally just said we should get the ships out there and do a naval embargo," one source who's heard Trump's comments told Axios. "I'm assuming he's thinking of the Cuban missile crisis. ... But Cuba is an island and Venezuela is a massive coastline. ... It would need massive, massive amounts of resources; probably more than the U.S. Navy can provide." Former Defense Secretary James Mattis long stonewalled Trump's demands for a military option for Venezuela, Axios reports. Peter Weber

June 20, 2019

"Last winter, the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro seemed a sure bet to President Trump, a quick foreign policy win at a time when other initiatives in Asia and the Middle East appeared stalled or headed in the wrong direction," The Washington Post reports. Since a U.S. backed uprising led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó fizzled in April, senior administration officials tell the Post, Trump "is losing both patience and interest in Venezuela."

Trump is clearly frustrated about Venezuela, a foreign policy issue he "always thought of ... as low-hanging fruit" on which he "could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory," one former Trump administration official involved in Venezuela policy tells the Post. Now Trump rarely talks about Venezuela in public and his Twitter account has dropped all mentions of the country, save for one tweet earlier this month in which he claimed "Russia has informed us that they have removed most of their people from Venezuela," the Post notes. Russia denied both leaving Venezuela and talking about leaving Venezuela with the Trump administration, and "it was never mentioned again."

In private, Trump "chewed out his staff" about the failed Venezuela regime change, blaming National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Latin America policy director Mauricio Claver-Carone for getting "played" by both Guaidó and key Maduro figures, current and former administration officials tell the Post. Some current officials disputed that characterization of Trump's reaction and said his Venezuela policy was always long-term and is on track. But Maduro appears safely ensconced in the presidential residence, the Post says, and "while Trump appears to have withdrawn from the fray, Bolton tweets about Venezuela more than on any other foreign policy issue," and he's still bullish on thwarting Maduro. Peter Weber

May 26, 2019

Norway's foreign ministry confirmed on Saturday that delegates from both Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government and the country's opposition led by Juan Guaidó will meet in Oslo next week to negotiate an end to Venezuela's political crisis.

Both sides met separately with Norwegian mediators last week for preliminary talks. Guaidó has been hesitant about sending representatives to meet with the government, arguing Maduro has used negotiations as nothing more than a stalling tactic in the past. But as the opposition continues to lose momentum, he confirmed he would support the Oslo talks during a rally on Saturday, though he insisted his side would maintain that a transfer of power is necessary. The U.S. State Department shares that sentiment. "As we have stated repeatedly, we believe the only thing to negotiate with Nicolás Maduro is the conditions of his departure," department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Maduro has also publicly endorsed the Norway talks, but has shown no indication he would step down.

Norway has a history of successfully mediating foreign internal conflicts, including situations in Colombia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. Tim O'Donnell

May 21, 2019

In public, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó remains optimistic about his efforts to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his United Socialist Party from power. But, privately, The New York Times reports, Guaidó and his advisers are beginning to feel the pressure from Maduro's forces after the opposition's failed military uprising in April.

"The persecution has been savage," Guaidó, who is recognized by several countries, including the United States, as Venezuela's legitimate interim president, told the Times.

Nowadays, Guaidó is often stationed inside one of several safe houses, while his deputy chief of staff Rafael Del Rosario remains in exile, after escaping Venezuela with his family by foot, aided by soldiers sympathetic to Guaidó's cause. Several other soldiers and legislators who stood by Guaidó in April are reportedly either in jail or being harbored in foreign embassies.

The situation has the opposition seriously considering negotiating with Maduro, which Guaidó had previously rejected, the Times reports. Last week representatives from the opposition and Maduro's government traveled to Norway for preliminary talks, though Guaidó maintains that the goal is to remove Maduro. Even the United States, Guaidó's most fervent supporter, has taken a step back from the situation, as President Trump has turned his attention more heavily toward Iran in recent weeks, making it even more unlikely that the Venezuelan opposition could secure U.S. military support if the situation intensifies. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

March 9, 2019

Nation-wide blackouts have affected Venezuela since Thursday, creating even more difficulties for a country that is in the midst of a political crisis and suffering shortages of food and medical supplies. But that hasn't stopped protesters from participating in anti-government rallies on Saturday.

Offices and schools were closed throughout the country on Friday and hospitals have struggled to operate without power. At least one hospital patient died when her respirator stopped working, the BBC reported. The outages occurred ahead of planned protests against President Nicolás Muduro on Saturday, organized by Venezuela's opposition movement.

Maduro and his political adversary, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself interim president with international backing, have each blamed the other for causing the power failure. The blackout was reportedly caused by problems at a major hydroelectric plant. Maduro's government has called the power outage a U.S.-sponsored act of sabotage.

Some parts of Caracas and the rest of the country have had power restored intermittently, but the situation remains tenuous.

But the protests have carried on as planned, with anti-Maduro activists clashing with police on Saturday morning, Reuters reports. Maduro's Socialist Party is orchestrating its own competing march on Saturday, protesting against U.S. imperialism. Tim O'Donnell

March 6, 2019

As the crisis in Venezuela continues, President Nicolás Maduro's counterintelligence forces have begun to crack down on citizens of foreign countries that have announced their support of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Authorities raided the homes of American journalist Cody Weddle and his assistant, Carlos Camacho, a Venezuelan citizen, early Wednesday morning in Caracas. The two remain in custody.

The U.S. State Department has demanded Weddle's immediate release.

Maduro's government has reportedly already detained 36 journalists in the country this year.

In addition to Weddle and Camacho, the Venezuelan government expelled Daniel Kriener, the German ambassador, after he met Guaidó at the Caracas airport during the latter's triumphant return to the country. Both Germany and the United States are among the numerous nations that have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate interim president, and have called for Maduro to step aside. Tim O'Donnell

February 25, 2019

In the wake of the standoff that took a violent turn at the Colombia-Venezuela border on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Bogotá, Colombia to reaffirm the United States' support for Juan Guaidó, Venezuela's opposition head and the internationally recognized leader of the country, and announce new sanctions against President Nicolás Maduro and his officials.

Pence urged regional leaders to freeze the Venezuelan state oil company's assets and to transfer Maduro's assets to Guaidó. The vice president also announced an additional $56 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelans.

Maduro has initiated a blockade against international aid, which the opposition has been trying to breach.

Speaking before Guaidó and the Lima Group, a coalition of mostly Latin American countries, which does not recognize Maduro as the leader of Venezuela, Pence said that "the day is coming soon when Venezuela's long nightmare will end and Venezuela will once more be free." Tim O'Donnell

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