Santiago de Chile, March 31, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) - The Venezuelan government has rejected a “democratic transition” agreement outlined by the Trump administration.
Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry put out a statement on Tuesday afternoon reaffirming that the country is “free and sovereign” and will not accept “tutelage” from foreign powers.
“It is precisely the Trump administration that needs to step aside and lift the sanctions that even US legislators recognize as hampering Venezuela from acquiring supplies to fight the COVID-19 [pandemic],” the statement reads.
Earlier on Tuesday, the US State Department unveiled a “framework for a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela.”
The plan calls for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to resign in favor of a five-person “Council of State” nominated jointly by the pro-government and opposition parliamentary blocs.
The transition administration would be responsible for convening new presidential and parliamentary elections “in 6-12 months.”
Washington refused to recognize Maduro’s 2018 reelection, instead throwing its weight behind opposition leader Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself “interim president” in January 2019 and subsequently led several attempts to oust the Chavista government by force.
Under the plan, Guaido would likewise resign from his “post” and would be barred from sitting on the “Council of State.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration commits to lifting sanctions on the Venezuelan state and oil industry, as well as those targeting high-ranking officials, only after Maduro leaves office and the new government ends all security agreements with Cuba and Russia.
The US also vowed to ramp up unilateral sanctions until the Maduro administration accepts the deal.
“Our sanctions will remain in effect, and increase, until the Maduro regime accepts a genuine political transition,” the State Department said in a press statement.
Since 2017, Washington has imposed round after round of punishing economic sanctions, including sweeping financial restrictions, an oil embargo, and a blanket ban on dealings with Venezuela’s state sector. The Treasury Department has also targeted third party actors for dealing with Caracas such as Russia’s Rosneft.
A growing number of multilateral bodies, including the United Nations and the European Union, have criticized the sanctions for their crippling impact on Venezuela’s response capacity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, a group of eleven US Democratic senators penned a letter to the Trump administration urging the temporary lifting of sectoral sanctions against Venezuela and Iran on the grounds that the measures “are hindering the free flow of desperately needed medical and humanitarian supplies.”
The US plan came days after the Department of Justice (DoJ) indicted Maduro and 14 current or former top Venezuelan officials on “narco-terrorism” charges in what has been widely viewed as an unprecedented step against another state.
US officials have ruled out annulling the charges as part of the transition agreement, which contains a provision that Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez remain in his post despite facing federal indictment.
“People should hire lawyers and start talking to the Department of Justice,” US Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Reuters.
Abrams did not offer further information regarding the status of the charges under a transition government, though the Venezuelan constitution formally prohibits the extradition of Venezuelan nationals. He did, however, suggest that Maduro “could theoretically run” in a future presidential election.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for his part, dismissed the possibility of the leftist leader returning to office, telling reporters that “Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela.”
Since 2016, the Venezuelan government and opposition have participated in several rounds of internationally-mediated dialogue in a bid to resolve the country’s ongoing political standoff. Last August, high-level Norway-brokered talks were reportedly on the verge of an agreement when they collapsed following the imposition of a sweeping US embargo.
Most recently, the pro-government and opposition factions of the National Assembly have embarked on a joint process for nominating a new electoral council set to oversee parliamentary elections later this year. On March 10, Venezuela’s largest opposition party, Democratic Action, confirmed it would compete in the legislative race.
With additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.