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US pushes for negotiations to form transition government, hold free elections in Venezuela

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on July 25, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Douglas Christian/Zuma Press/TNS)

After a year in which the U.S. has been publicly skeptical of dialogue efforts with Nicolás Maduro to solve the crisis in Venezuela, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Thursday for negotiations to form a transitional government and hold free elections under international standards.

“A swift negotiated transition to democracy is the most effective and sustainable route to peace and prosperity in Venezuela,” Pompeo said. “Negotiations could open the path out of the crisis through a transitional government that will organize free and fair elections.”

In a separate statement, the State Department laid out the conditions to hold free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections this year in Venezuela, including the selection of a new National Electoral Commission and a new Supreme Court.

The statement also mentions the restoration of all powers and authorities of the National Assembly, the removal of restrictions on individuals and political parties so that they can participate in the elections, unrestricted access to the media, and independent electoral observation.

The document aims to refocus the attention on holding presidential elections as a political solution to the crisis in that country, and to warn that if elections to the National Assembly take place, “they must be free and transparent,” said a senior administration official who asked not to be identified to discuss additional details of the announcement.

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The language about negotiations represent a “180-degree change in the administration rhetoric,” said Geoff Ramsey, the assistant director of Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank.

“What we are seeing is a recognition that the pressure [against the Maduro regime] is not the goal, it has to be directed towards a political solution,” Ramsey said.

In recent months, administration officials have insisted that the crisis must be resolved politically. Still, the United States was skeptical of efforts led by Norway and the European Union to mediate between the opposition and Maduro. Those initiatives failed after Maduro decided to withdraw from the talks, but Pompeo’s words could give new impetus to the attempts at dialogue to find an electoral path.

The senior official said Pompeo’s statements do not imply a policy change.

“We definitely still oppose elections with Maduro in power,” the official said. “That’s why we noted the importance of achieving these conditions only with a transitional government in power.

“We have always supported negotiations, but we have warned that the regime manipulates them by using them to buy time to further oppress and intimidate,” the official added.

Pompeo’s statement came a few days after Maduro used military force to try to regain control of the National Assembly, with an opposition majority, and prevent the reelection of its president, Juan Guaidó.

This attempt, only backed by Russia, failed, and the United States and more than 50 countries continue to recognize Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

But the audacity of the attempt suggests that “the regime is desperate, all its efforts have failed, and it’s closing the doors to negotiations,” the official said.

Sunday’s actions indicate that Maduro could try to hold parliamentary elections this year without the minimum conditions, the source said, and “we wanted to set a clear line in the sand and tell the Maduro regime, ‘we know what your tricks are, and we will not fall for them.’ “

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© 2020 Miami Herald