A senior Venezuelan official told Washington Newsday that his country was ready to either defend itself against continued U.S. hostility or begin talks with the eventual winner of Tuesday’s presidential election, no matter who won the vote in the end.
While the United States was willing to choose between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Venezuela’s Deputy Secretary of State for North America said Caracas had remained neutral in the race. But he said that the Latin American power led by the left had an interest in what strategy Washington would pursue under the next president.
“We will not comment on who should win. It is a sovereign decision that can only be made by the people of the United States,” said Carlos Ron.
“More generally, regardless of who sits in the White House in January, our commitment to defend sovereignty and peace in Venezuela remains intact, as does our willingness to engage in dialogue as long as there is mutual respect,” he added.
However, the Trump administration’s current strategy is defined by a “maximum pressure” approach, with the White House breaking off relations with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in January 2019 and imposing far-reaching sanctions on his country’s suffering economy, which has already been hit by the financial crisis.
“There is no such respect at the moment,” Ron Newsday told Washington, “because the United States is actively attacking the Venezuelan people by using illegal and unilateral coercive measures that subject the Venezuelan people to collective punishment prohibited by international law, with the aim of forcing a change of government that undermines the will of the Venezuelan people.
He said that a diplomatic solution was best for both Washington and Caracas.
“What would be in the interest of both countries and their people is for U.S. officials to change their policies from a policy of aggression to a return to diplomacy,” Ron said.
The Caracas Embassy in Washington, represented by the team of National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, declined Washington Newsday’s request for comment.
The self-proclaimed interim president, who heads the opposition congress, has fought to overthrow Maduro. Even after more than 18 months of additional sanctions, threats, a failed coup and a failed conspiracy of insurgents involving two former US Green Berets, the Venezuelan leader remains firmly in power with the support of his country’s armed forces.
While Guaidó is supported by the United States and his regional and international partners, Maduro is also supported by a number of countries, including Russia, China, Iran and Cuba, and retains the recognition of other major powers such as India, South Africa and Turkey, as well as the United Nations.
Guaidó’s problems both with Maduro and in the fragmented ranks of the opposition have reportedly aroused skepticism in the Trump administration, although it continues to publicly support the embattled politician.
Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo told journalists last month that the White House’s global commitments included “helping the Venezuelan people with humanitarian aid and recognizing that Juan Guaidó is the legitimate president – not Maduro and his cronies.
In a speech before a crowd of supporters of the ruling United Socialist Party on Tuesday, the pro-government leader of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, expressed the hope that U.S. voters would introduce a more friendly administration at home and abroad.
“Hopefully an option would arrive in the United States that would work for the more than 40 million poor people there, an option that would not interfere further in the internal affairs of countries, an option that speaks of true peace,” said Cabello, who also serves as vice chairman of the United Socialist Party. His comments were later posted on Twitter by Maduro.
Several of Biden’s advisers said he would probably moderate the current government’s approach to Latin America and possibly abandon Guaidó in favor of talks with Maduro, according to the New York Times.
But the presidential candidate has at times hinted at a hard line against Caracas, and he has even accused Trump of being soft on Maduro.
Biden may have agreed to resume the diplomatic path that former President Barack Obama had taken with regard to Cuba, but when it comes to Venezuela, bad blood remains, dating back to the days of the late founder of the United Socialist Party, Hugo Chavez, who faced an attempted coup with connections to Washington in 2002.
Biden has also tried to distance himself from Trump’s claims of socialist sympathies, especially to some Hispanic listeners who are critical of leftist politics in Latin America. Last Friday Trump showed a video from 2015 in which Maduro called the then vice president “Comrade Biden” shortly after the two met at the swearing in of the Brazilian Dilma Rousseff by the president.
Biden has since said that he “confronted” the Venezuelan leader at the meeting, a statement denied by the Trump campaign.
However, just days after the over five-year-old clip was shot, Maduro accused Biden and the rest of the Obama administration of trying to topple him after the U.S. announced a limited round of sanctions as the Venezuelan economy slid further into decline from a high in 2013, the year Chávez died and Maduro took office.
The country’s economic prospects would briefly rebound before another deeper recession in 2017, the same year that the Trump government launched its first round of sanctions, affecting the Venezuelan government’s ability to reschedule debt.
Trump also continued to exert “maximum pressure” against Iran, a country that has sent gasoline and other products to Venezuela, among other things, and has supported Venezuela in defiance of U.S. restrictions. His government has since doubled successive measures to strangle the economy of the Islamic Republic, which was facing currency collapse and humanitarian concerns over a particularly deadly coronavirus outbreak.
In talks with Washington Newsday, both Venezuelan and Iranian officials have condemned the U.S. efforts to disrupt their trade and have vowed to continue bilateral cooperation despite the policies dictated by the White House that are increasing tension in the Western Hemisphere.