Merseyside, UK, February 6, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Newly sworn-in US President Joe Biden has discarded dialogue with the Nicolas Maduro government.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price ruled out any “direct contact” with the Venezuelan president in a press briefing Wednesday, adding that the administration considers him “a dictator.”
“The overriding goal of the Biden-Harris administration is to support a peaceful, democratic transition in Venezuela through free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections,” he said.
For its part, the Venezuelan government has called for improved relations with its US counterpart based on mutual respect.
Outlining the White House’s foreign policy approach to Venezuela for the first time, Price reiterated Washington’s support for opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“The United States continues to recognise the 2015 National Assembly as the last remaining democratic institution in Venezuela, and consistent with that the person chosen by the National Assembly… to be interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido,” he stated.
When pressed about Guaido’s fading international support and whether the administration believed him to be the best person to lead the country’s opposition, Price sidestepped questions and stated that the US would work alongside “partners and allies” such as the Organization of American States and the Lima Group.
As a relatively unknown lawmaker, Guaido made a bid to unseat Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by declaring himself “interim president” in January 2019. Though he initially secured the backing of the United States and its allies in Europe and the Americas, his support has since significantly waned both at home and abroad after failing to make good on his promise to remove the Venezuelan president.
Guaido lost his standing as congressional leader after an opposition sector broke ranks in late 2019. Parliamentary elections in December 2020 then delivered an overwhelming majority for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela after being boycotted by the country’s hard line opposition.
The self-proclaimed “interim president” instead vowed to extend the outgoing National Assembly’s term. However, his standing has become increasingly questioned amidst opposition ranks, with twice presidential candidate and opposition veteran Henrique Capriles Radonski urging the Biden administration to drop its support for a “finished” Guaido.
The State Department’s reiterated support came after the European Union’s 27 member states reversed their position with regards to Guaido earlier in January this year, confirming that the organisation would no longer recognise him as interim head of state.
Though Price’s comments dispel suggestions that Biden looks set to depart from his predecessor's policy toward Venezuela, it is still unclear whether his administration will modify the wide-reaching sanctions on the country’s economy enacted by former President Donald Trump, especially targeting the oil industry.
At the beginning of February, the US Treasury issued a license modification allowing certain “necessary” transactions involving Venezuela’s National Institute of Aquatic Spaces (INEA) in the country’s ports and airports - a move which some interpreted as an early indication that Biden administration would move to relax his predecessor’s sanctions, despite promises to make them “more effective.”
However, Price made no mention of any intention to roll back the Treasury’s unilateral measures and stipulated that the US would continue to “target regime officials and cronies involved in corruption and human rights abuses.”
The sanctions are widely regarded as having devastated the country’s economy, as well as causing at least some 40,000 deaths between 2017-2018. The Maduro government has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court (ICC), arguing that the US blockade amounts to a “crime against humanity.”
Oil corporations, including US oil giant Chevron and India’s Reliance Industries have likewise lobbied Washington to reverse some of the measures, which include an embargo on Venezuelan oil sales and the blacklisting of any company which does business with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.