Top US Diplomat to Meet Venezuela Officials

Top US Diplomat to Meet Venezuela OfficialsTop US Diplomat to Meet Venezuela Officials

A senior US diplomat was in Venezuela on Tuesday to meet officials to jumpstart dialogue between the normally hostile governments as the socialist-run nation is torn apart by daily food protests and a campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Thomas Shannon, a career diplomat with extensive experience in Latin America, flew to Caracas after weeks of looting and hunger riots in Venezuela. The riots led to hundreds of arrests and several deaths, AP reported.

State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said Shannon, who now serves as undersecretary of state for political affairs, hoped to foster dialogue about the social, economic and political challenges facing the oil-rich country. He was to meet with leading opposition figures and was also expected to meet Maduro and other government representatives.

The visit comes as the Organization of American States is set to meet later in the week in Washington to debate the mounting crisis and weigh sanctioning Maduro for allegedly stamping out political dissent in violation of regional commitments to democracy.

Maduro used the diplomatic mission as a cudgel to batter his critics. In televised statements, he returned to one of his favorite topics: What he describes as the childish stubbornness of the country’s political opposition.

“I think it is very good that we are taking these steps with the US,” he said. “I only wish the Venezuelan opposition would engage in serious, transparent dialogue in the same way.”

The opposition held talks with Maduro two years ago after bloody anti-government protests swept the nation, but that dialogue eventually fizzled without bearing fruit.

Today, government opponents are taking a different tack, organizing a recall referendum they hope will lead to Maduro being removed from office this year with one of their own potentially to replace him.