Top US diplomat meets with officials amid crisis
Top diplomatic officials from the United States and Venezuela met yesterday against a backdrop of food protests and a campaign to recall unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.
Senior US diplomat Tom Shannon flew into Caracas after weeks of looting and hunger riots rocked the South American country, leading to hundreds of arrests and several deaths. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Shannon hoped to foster dialogue about the social, economic and political challenges facing the socialist country, and would try for a meeting with Maduro.
The visit come as the Organization of American States is set to meet later in the week to discuss the mounting crisis in the once-rich oil country.
Maduro used the diplomatic mission as a cudgel to batter his critics. In televised statements, he returned to one of his favourite topics: What he describes as the childish stubbornness of the country's organised opposition.
"I think it's very good that we're taking these steps with the US," he said. "I only wish the Venezuelan opposition would engage in serious, transparent dialogue in the same way."
The opposition tried for dialogue with Maduro two years ago, after bloody antigovernment protests swept the nation. Those talks eventually dissolved without bearing fruit. This time, they are taking a different tack, organising around a recall referendum they hope will allow them to throw out Maduro this year and replace him with one of their own.
Thousands of Caracas residents stood in a warm drizzle yesterday waiting to verify their signatures on a recall petition by having their fingerprints taken. The weeklong verification drive began Monday, and is the first of a series of steps in the Byzantine recall process. People online said they were glad to wait; they see the recall as the best way to remedy the shortages and inflation that are forcing many people here to skip meals.
Protests over mounting hunger continued. A small group of residents stopped traffic near a Caracas slum, while in a wealthy neighbourhood, people hung banners saying "we are hungry."