The Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled a proposal for the lifting of Venezuela sanctions in exchange for the creation of a power-sharing transitional government made up of members of the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party.
With the South American nation squeezed by low world oil prices, a spreading coronavirus pandemic and a US economic pressure campaign, Washington shifted its approach aimed at promoting new elections as soon as this year to end the political crisis there.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally announced the administration’s “Democratic Transition Framework” for Venezuela, which offers for the first time a “sequenced exit path” from tough US sanctions, including on the vital oil sector, if Maduro and his allies cooperate.
But it will be no easy task to draw Maduro onto a path of political reconciliation. He holds onto power despite the escalation of US efforts to remove him and has shown no willingness to seriously negotiate an end to his rule.
The initiative comes less than a week after the US government took a more confrontational tack, indicting Maduro and more than a dozen other current and former top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism”, accusations he dismissed as false and racist.
Maduro’s staying power has become a source of frustration for President Donald Trump, US officials have said privately. Maduro retains the backing of the military, as well as Russia, China, and Cuba.
But the Trump administration hopes an energy dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia that has contributed to the plunging price of oil – Maduro’s main financial lifeline – and the growing coronavirus threat will help make Maduro and his loyalists more pliable.
“The regime is now under heavier pressure than it has ever been,” US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Reuters News Agency. “Maybe this pressure will lead to a serious discussion within the regime.”
he US proposal, which Abrams said was approved by Trump, calls for Maduro to “step aside” and for the opposition-controlled National Assembly “to elect an inclusive transitional government acceptable to the major factions”. This council of state would govern until it oversees elections, which Pompeo said the United States hoped could be held in six to 12 months.
But in what appears to be a softening of tone towards Maduro, Abrams told Reuters the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and even suggested that he “could theoretically run” in the election.
“If the conditions of the framework are met, including the departure of all foreign security forces,” Pompeo told reporters, “then all remaining US sanctions would be lifted.”
Maduro’s government did not immediately comment on the US proposal. Maduro has previously accused the US of supporting the opposition’s attempts off a “coup”.