US warns off Venezuela allies at Lima Group meeting

A general view of the International Conference for Democracy in Venezuela, in Lima, Peru, 06 August 2019. [EPA-EFE/Paolo Aguilar]

Washington warned China and Russia on Tuesday (6 August) to avoid doing business with the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro, as delegates from some 60 countries met in Lima to discuss ways of ending the crisis in the South American nation.

The admonition came a day after President Donald Trump ordered a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the United States and barred transactions with its authorities.

“We are sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: Proceed with extreme caution,” said Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking in Lima.

“There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.”

He aimed a specific warning at Maduro allies China and Russia, telling them their “support to the Maduro regime is intolerable.”

Bolton urged Russia not to “double down on a bad bet,” and told China that “the quickest route to getting repaid” for its loans to Venezuela was by supporting “a new legitimate government.”

The Trump administration is determined to force Maduro from power and support opposition leader Juan Guaido’s plans to form a transitional government and set up new elections.

But Russia’s foreign ministry said there was “no legal basis” to freeze Venezuelan assets and added that “no state has the right to dictate its desire to another through economic repression.”

‘Committed to failure’

The sanctions have drawn an angry response from Caracas, which denounced the US move as “another serious aggression by the Trump administration through arbitrary economic terrorism against the Venezuelan people.”

Crisis-wracked Venezuela has been mired in a political impasse since January when Guaido, speaker of the National Assembly, proclaimed himself acting president, quickly receiving the support of more than 50 countries.

Tuesday’s meeting was called by the Lima Group, which includes a dozen Latin American countries and Canada, most of which support Guaido.

The Lima meeting comes as representatives of Maduro and Guaido are involved in “continuous” negotiations mediated by Norway. The first round of talks was in Oslo in May, and three further rounds have taken place in Barbados.

The International Contact Group (ICG) on Venezuela welcomed the Peruvian government’s initiative to organise the meeting.

IN a statement, the ICG reaffirmed the “urgent need for a peaceful and democratic way out of the rapidly deteriorating crisis, particularly because of massive migration flows to neighbouring countries.”

“The gravity of the findings of the recently published report of the UN High Commissioner for human rights on the situation in the country cannot leave any conscience indifferent,”

Caracas claims the US sanctions show that Washington and its allies are “committed to the failure of the political dialogue” because “they fear the results and benefits.”

Bolton, who is in the US delegation alongside Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said Maduro was “not serious” about talks.

He said Trump’s move “authorizes the US government to identify, target and impose sanctions on any persons who continue to provide support” for Maduro’s “illegitimate regime.”

He said it would “deny Maduro access to the global financial system and to further isolate him internationally.”

However Guaido and his officials are exempt from the sanctions, as are “transactions related to humanitarian activity,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“This is not an embargo,” he added.

‘Dictatorship must end’

Venezuela’s opposition considers Maduro an usurper over his re-election last year in a poll widely viewed as rigged.

They want him to stand down so new elections can be held – but Maduro, with support from the country’s powerful military, refuses to go.

He says the talks must lead to “democratic coexistence” and an end to what he describes as an attempted US-orchestrated “coup.”

But on Tuesday the White House was emphatic: The “dictatorship must end for Venezuela to have a stable, democratic, and prosperous future.”

The United States would “use every appropriate tool to end Maduro’s hold on Venezuela,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Oil-rich but cash-poor Venezuela has been in a deep recession for five years. Food and medicine shortages are routine, and public services are progressively failing.

Around a quarter of Venezuela’s 30 million people are in need of aid, according to the United Nations, while close to 3.3 million have left since the start of 2016.

The International Monetary Fund says inflation will hit a staggering one million percent this year while the economy will shrink by 35%.

The Lima Group invited around 100 countries to the meeting but many — including Venezuela’s allies China, Russia, Cuba and Turkey – did not attend.

Germany, Britain, France and Japan are among those at the meeting, as well as representatives for the European Union and Inter-American Development Bank.

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