Thu | Jan 18, 2018

US diplomat holds talk, activists detained

Published:Thursday | June 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM



A senior United States diplomat was holding talks with Venezuela's hostile government and its opposition on Wednesday, apparently hoping to prevent a humanitarian disaster and ease a political crisis in the deeply polarised nation.

Thomas Shannon, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, met Tuesday with several leading opposition figures. Government-backed news media said he was expected to meet Wednesday with President Nicolas Maduro, one of the world's most vociferous critics of the United States.

With Venezuela facing an economic crisis that has led to food riots and aggravated political unrest, U.S. officials has said they want to avoid bloodshed and a humanitarian crisis that might spill across its borders, undermining President Barack Obama's legacy in a region where he made history by reopening relations with Cuba.

Neither US nor Venezuelan officials gave immediate reports on the content of the discussions.

The United States (US) has criticised Maduro's government for jailing critics and blocking the opposition-controlled Congress as part of attempts to squelch unrest caused by growing shortages of food and many other key goods, as well as triple-digit inflation.

The US also is backing a scheduled Thursday session of the Organization of American States where regional governments will debate a proposed diplomatic intervention to ease tensions a measure opposed by Maduro.

The opposition is pushing for a recall referendum this year to cut short Maduro's term and trigger new elections. They say the national electoral council and courts are stacked in the government's favour and are trying to delay or kill the recall move.

Shannon commands more respect in Caracas than any other US diplomat, according to Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, though that may not be saying much.

Venezuelan prosecutors yesterday indicted two opposition activists on money laundering charges. They had been travelling to assist in the signature validation process for the recall petition.

One of them, 30 year-old Francisco Marquez, is a dual Venezuelan-US citizen.

In a rare congressional hearing on Venezuela's crisis yesterday, lawmakers condemned the arrest of Marquez and called on Maduro to release him and a dozen others widely considered political prisoners.