US Republican Senator Meets with Venezuelan Opposition in Caracas

Republican Senator and Chairman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker met with leading opposition figures on Tuesday after allegedly being invited to the country by right-wing hardliner, Maria Corina Machado. 

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Senator Corker’s high profile visit has been widely covered in the Venezuelan private press (El Nuevo Herald)
Senator Corker’s high profile visit has been widely covered in the Venezuelan private press (El Nuevo Herald)
By Rachael Boothroyd
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Caracas, July 1st 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) Republican Senator and Chairman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, arrived in Venezuela on Tuesday to take part in a low profile meeting with the country’s political opposition and Venezuelan government figures. 

While official voices from the US government have been less than forthcoming with information surrounding Corker’s visit, which has generally been kept under wraps, rightwing hardliner, Maria Corina Machado, said that she had written to Corker and a number of other senators recommending that they visit the country. 

“I firmly believe that your visit is an opportunity to complement the perception that you have of the Venezuelan crisis.. In this spirit of urgency, I would like to invite you as part of a bipartisan delegation to consult with our political leaders, civil society representatives and victims of the repression of the political and economic crisis which worsens everyday,” Machado wrote. 

The hardline right-winger, who has links to former US President W. George Bush, confirmed to Spanish news agency EFE that Corker had met with opposition leaders in the US embassy after touching down in the Venezuelan capital. 

The meeting was later also confirmed to have taken place by the opposition’s principal coalition, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD).

“We asked and highlighted to him the need for greater international pressure on the issue of all political prisoners, but he told us that that wasn’t on the discussion agenda with the government,” said MUD legislator, Julio Borges. 

The opposition member of parliament, who has been linked to last year’s violent “Guarimba” protests but is protected from prosecution by parliamentary immunity, told press that the MUD had also petitioned the senator for action on “three main points,” including human rights, press freedoms and international observation of the upcoming December parliamentary elections later this year.  

The demands correspond to an opposition-led media campaign that has intensified in recent weeks, with the MUD accusing the government of unproven human rights violations, as well as of holding so-called “political prisoners” ahead of this December’s National Assembly elections.  

Machado has been particularly active in the media over the past few weeks for the public launch of her new political party, “Vente Venezuela”. The politician and engineer, who garnered less than 5% of the vote when she stood in the 2012 opposition presidential primaries, has given a series of interviews claiming that the country is “heading into an election in the midst of a dictatorship” and urging people to “step up pressure in the streets” at a forum in the Central University of Venezuela.

Nonetheless, the majority of Venezuelans have so far failed to heed Machado’s calls for further protests, with the notable exception of ongoing violent altercations with police in Tachira state.

While the MUD coalition has attempted to frame Corker’s visit as emblematic of “growing international concern surrounding the situation in Venezuela,” other news agencies have chalked Corker’s decision to visit to improved dialogue between Caracas and Washington.  

On Wednesday, the Senator sustained a meeting with Venezuelan Ombudsman, William Tarek Saab, where the two men discussed issues relating to “democracy, human rights and national peace”. 

“We have informed Senator Corker of the real situation affecting the Venezuelan people in terms of guaranteeing their human rights in the country, which is different to how the transnational media characterise it,” stated Saab to press. 

It is expected that Senator Corker will meet with government officials before heading back to the US, although no details have been officially released by either Caracas or Washington. Likewise, the government has yet to confirm rumours in the media that the senator met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodriguez. 

Corker’s visit follows on from what has been described as a detente in Venezuela -US relations, which reached boiling point earlier this year when President Barak Obama signed an Executive Order saddling a third set of Venezuelan government officials with sanctions. The order was reportedly carried out on the advice of anti-Venezuelan Republican Senators and bypassed congressional approval. 

Nonetheless, the Venezuelan government has held several closed meetings with senior US diplomat and State Department envoy, Thomas Shannon, since April in a bid to ease tensions and mend the tattered diplomatic relationship. Shannon last met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rodriguez and the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, in Haiti on June 17th. Shannon has also consistently met with the country’s opposition, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity coalition (MUD).

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