US Lawmakers Reveal Few Details of Talks with Venezuela’s Beleaguered President

By Mark Browne | April 11, 2018 | 8:23pm EDT
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo: Presidency of Venezuela/Instagram)

Mexico City ( – Two U.S. lawmakers are revealing few details of their personal meetings with Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro after separate visits to the country last week.

Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.) spent four days in Caracas where he met with Maduro and opposition leaders.

But details of their meeting are being withheld by the senator’s office.

“The Venezuelan and American people share a long and deep friendship. I traveled to Caracas to better understand the conditions faced by Venezuelans and to urge President Maduro to adhere to basic democratic norms, particularly regarding the dubious snap election now scheduled for May,” Durbin said in a statement issued by his office after he returned to Washington Saturday.

Durbin met with Maduro, members of the opposition, the president of the National Assembly, the ministers of health and nutrition, business leaders, civil society groups, doctors, and humanitarian organizations.

He also met with Joshua Holt, an American citizen imprisoned in 2016 after entering the country to marry a Venezuelan woman.

A judge ordered Holt to be tried on weapons charges at the end of last year. The State Department has called for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

Durbin said he pressured the Venezuelan authorities to release Holt.

“Unfortunately, failure to address these issues, hold a credible election, and free Venezuelan political prisoners and Josh Holt will only further isolate Venezuela internationally and strain relations with the United States.”

Meanwhile Rep. Pete Session (R-Texas) traveled to Caracas on April 2 for a two-day visit during which he also met with Maduro and opposition leaders.

“The congressman has been working over the past year as an intermediary to help resolve issues in the country and continued those conversations in Caracas last week,” said Caroline Boothe, Sessions’ communications director.

She declined to provide details of Sessions’ talks with Maduro.

“It’s still an ongoing process so he is still trying to resolve the conflicts,” Boothe said.

Sessions paid for the trip with personal funds and was in communication with the State Department while in Venezuela, she said.

The visits by Durbin and Sessions are a “sign of the growing interest in the Venezuelan crisis,” according to David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.

“High level contacts such as these could play an important role in mediating any kind of transition back to democracy in Venezuela,” he said. “Hopefully this will followed by more such outreach.”

The ongoing collapse of Venezuela’s economy, food and medical shortages and the political crisis swirling around Maduro’s presidency have prompted more than 1.5 million citizens to flee the country, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Some 5,000 Venezuelans are crossing into neighboring countries every day, it said.

Asylum requests have increased by 2,000 percent since 2014, with more than 94,000 Venezuelans seeking asylum in other nations last year alone.

“The movements are taking place for a variety of reasons, including threats by armed groups, fear of being targeted on account of political opinion real or perceived, insecurity and violence, lack of food, medicine or access to essential social services as well as loss of income,” the UNHCR said in a recent appeal.

Among those who have fled the country is the country’s former chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega.

During a symbolic session of a “supreme court in exile,” held in Bogota last week, Ortega accused Maduro of acts of corruption.

She presented documents – not made available to the press – which she said prove that Maduro “negotiated” an illicit payment of $18 million from the international construction firm Odebrecht to the 2012 election campaign of his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, of which $10 million in cash was hand delivered to Maduro.

Ortega also accused Maduro of seeking a $50 million payment from Odebrecht for his own election campaign in 2013, in exchange for project approvals.

She claimed Maduro got only $35 million, which was deposited into the account of Americo Alex Mata Garcia, a Maduro ally who coordinated his 2013 election campaign. The U.S. Treasury Department last month froze the assets of Garcia and three other current or former Venezuelan officials.

Odebrecht, a Brazilian conglomerate, has been embroiled in recent years in a massive corruption scandal involving a number of countries across the region.

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