Washington.- Senior Trump administration officials “discussed” plans to “increase pressure” over the coming year on Venezuela’s embattled ruler, Nicolás Maduro, with top opposition leaders at the State Department this week, Colombian and Venezuelan opposition officials confirmed to McClatchy and el Nuevo Herald.
The State Department hosted four of Venezuela’s largest opposition parties, starting with one-on-one sessions that began earlier this week before all the parties gathered together on Wednesday.
One source said the administration plans to “pour more coal into the fire” with stronger, more complex sanctions that will further isolate Maduro from an axis of nations supporting him.
Trump’s team is examining ways to leverage the Rio Treaty (TIAR), invoked by hemispheric allies in September, to increase illegal unilateral sanctions.
“The steps that will be taken by the United States during the next year were discussed,” said a high ranking member of Guaidó’s international team, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“They laid out more sanctions and other types of steps they would take to increase the pressure on the regime, and other plans they are drafting to help Venezuela,” the source said. “They laid out all they are considering, in coordination with other countries, to strengthen the support of the Guaidó’s government.”
Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, Francisco Santos Calderón, confirmed the meetings occurred but declined to discuss what steps are under consideration by the Trump administration.
“There’s a meeting of all the members of the opposition at the State Department,” said Calderón, hosting a small group of journalists at his residence in Washington on Wednesday. “We are in constant consultation [with U.S. officials] on what’s the next step.”
Calderón said that White House and State Department officials had expressed strong support for the Guaidó government in recent weeks, pushing back against reports of frustration within the Trump administration over Guaidó’s “leadership”.
Colombia’s foreign minister will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday to discuss the situation in Venezuela, a crisis that has sent shockwaves throughout the region and led to one of the world’s largest migration.
Pompeo also hosted a meeting last week to “evaluate” the state of the policy, the Colombian ambassador stated, declining to provide details.
A State Department spokesperson for the Western Hemisphere Affairs bureau told McClatchy that U.S. officials “meet regularly with Venezuelans, including Venezuelan diplomats, state and local officials, members of the National Assembly, political activists, and others active in public affairs.”
“We do not discuss the contents of these conversations,” the spokesperson said. “U.S. policy is to support democracy in Venezuela, Interim President Juan Guaidó, and the National Assembly, which is the only democratically elected institution in the country.”
A newly negotiated government funding compromise on Capitol Hill includes nearly a half-billion dollars in humanitarian aid to support Venezuelan refugees, and codifies new U.S. sanctions against the Maduro regime.
Asked whether Guaidó maintained full support from the White House, Calderón stated: “They’re still all-in.”
“Guaidó is still a very integral part of the solution,” Calderón said. “We have absolute confidence in him. The U.S. has absolute confidence in him.” “But change is hard,” he continued. “Look at the conditions of Guaidó. He has no communications. So how do you mobilize?”
Yes, you read it right: NO COMMUNICATIONS, WOW, POOR LITTLE THING!!! (OT comment)
Featured image: Vice President Mike Pence met with Carlos Vecchio, a new Venezuelan envoy in Washington appointed by opposition leader Juan Guaido on Jan. 29. BY AP
Quotations and some editing courtesy of OT/JRE