Maduro Rejects Transition Plan; US Official Says Venezuelans Should ‘Change His Mind For Him’

Patrick Goodenough | April 1, 2020 | 4:42am EDT
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Nicolas Maduro speaks to reporters at the Miraflores palace in Caracas. (Photo by Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicolas Maduro speaks to reporters at the Miraflores palace in Caracas. (Photo by Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images)

( – In a bid to break the political deadlock in Venezuela amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled a proposal for a transitional power-sharing government led by neither of the men claiming the title of president.

The Maduro regime quickly rejected the idea, with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza saying it would never accept “tutelage from any foreign government” and calling on the Trump administration to stop its “continued and obsessive aggression.”

But a senior State Department official said that reaction was “completely predictable,” and not particularly significant.

“The plan is not so much an effort to change Nicolas Maduro’s mind as it is to appeal to everyone else in Venezuela to change his mind for him,” special representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told a briefing.

“What’s important is the conversations that … take place privately within the military and within the regime and within the [ruling socialist PSUV] party and within Venezuela, in labor unions, in the business community,” he said, characterizing the solution as one ultimately for Venezuelans themselves.

The U.S. and almost 60 other countries recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. (Photo by Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images)
The U.S. and almost 60 other countries recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. (Photo by Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. and almost 60 other countries view Juan Guaido as interim president, while others, among them Cuba, Iran, Russia and China, continue to support Maduro.

The proposal envisages a temporary ruling authority involving neither Maduro nor Guaido, serving as the executive until elections are held, within 12 months.

Asked whether the U.S. would accept a Maduro victory in that election, Abrams said the U.S. would respect whatever the result was – as long as the process was free and fair – noting that “there are lots of free and fair elections around the world whose outcomes, whose results, we regret because we think the wrong guy won.”

At the same time, Maduro’s dismal polling numbers indicate there was no possible way he could win in a free and fair election, he added.

An important feature is the plan’s outreach to Venezuela’s armed forces, whose support would be vital.

As such, the proposal guarantees that the military high command, including the defense ministers, commander, and service chiefs, would remain in place for the duration of the transitional government.

“The military will play an essential role in determining what this change looks like and in shaping the future of Venezuela,” Abrams said. “Venezuela actually faces a great security challenge from drug traffickers, from terrorist groups, from criminal gangs, and it needs security forces that are better paid and trained and equipped to secure the nation’s borders and maintain peace.”

Foreign forces out, sanctions lifted

The main elements of the “framework” proposal include:

--The National Assembly elects a four-member “council of state,” two from Guaido’s coalition and two from the PSUV. Each side is able to veto the other’s selection, meaning all four will have to be acceptable to both sides.

--Those four then choose a fifth member, to serve as interim president during the transitional phase. He or she will not be eligible to run for president in elections to be held at the end of that time. Guaido has already indicated his willingness to step aside during that period.

--The National Assembly elects new membership for two institutions that have been hijacked by the regime, the Supreme Court and National Electoral Council (CNE). Again, a mutual veto provision ensures that only individuals satisfactory to both sides will be chosen.

--All foreign forces must leave Venezuela immediately, unless the National Assembly rules otherwise by a three-quarters majority.

--Once the council of state is operating and foreign forces have left, the U.S. lifts sanctions on the government, the state-owned petroleum company PdVSA, and the oil sector. Sanctions targeting individuals for their membership in regime institutions are lifted in phases. However, sanctions relating to drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption, or human rights abuses will not be automatically lifted.

--The council of state sets a date for presidential and legislative elections. Once those elections take place, and are certified by international observers as free and fair, the U.S. lifts all remaining sanctions.

Other key components include the release of political prisoners; the dissolution of the pro-Maduro National Constituent Assembly; the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission; and passage of an amnesty law.

Crucially, the plan also envisages the provision of international humanitarian, economic, and other assistance; and negotiations with global financial institutions for major support programs.

Some elements of the plan, which Abrams said had been worked on for several months and had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, are similar to proposals put forward recently by Guaido.

At the weekend, Guaido called for the creation of a “national emergency government,” to help fight the pandemic, arguing that such a government would be able to attract the necessary international financial assistance.

The IMF recently rejected a request by Maduro for a $5 billion loan, on the grounds that its membership were divided over whether Maduro or Guaido was legitimate leader.

Asked about the recent unsealing of indictments against Maduro and other senior regime figures for alleged narco-trafficking, Abrams said criminal indictments were the product of the justice system, not a matter of foreign policy.

While sanctions could be lifted as a matter of policy, he said, “obviously the indictment stays.”

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