Maduro Seeks Thaw in Relations With US

Maduro Seeks Thaw in Relations With USMaduro Seeks Thaw in Relations With US

Talks aimed at reducing tensions between the US and Venezuela began a few months ago. The US is urging Maduro to work constructively with the opposition, something he has long resisted.

Venezuela’s embattled President Nicholas Maduro is calling for a new era in relations with the United States, a day after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Maduro met Kerry on Monday, on the sidelines of a peace treaty signing ceremony between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena. The two men spoke for 40 minutes, Maduro said during his weekly broadcast on state-run television, AFP reported.

“I ask that God bless the results of the meeting and that Venezuela opens a new era of relations with the United States,” he said.

The two countries have had strained relations since Maduro’s leftist predecessor, Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1999. By some accounts, Venezuela became more of an irritant in Washington than Cuba.

Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy is being devastated by low prices for the black gold, which has halved in less than two years. Its inflation rate is in the midst of a mind-bending spiral–275% in 2015, expected to hit 720% in 2016 and top 1,600% in 2017.

Shortages of food and other routine supplies have sparked anti-government protests.

Kerry “spoke of our concern about the economic and political challenges that have affected millions of Venezuelans, and he urged President Maduro to work constructively with opposition leaders to address these challenges”, said US State Department spokesman John Kirby.

“Secretary Kerry stressed our support for democratic solutions reached through dialogue and compromise,” he said, adding that the two agreed to continue the bilateral talks that began a few months back.

Tom Shannon, a veteran US diplomat, and Washington’s point man for the troubled relationship with Venezuela, will visit Caracas again soon, according to Maduro, who also said that an invitation to Kerry remains open.

The US Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, warned in July that the United States would “end up being Venezuela” if his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, were to win November’s presidential election.

Maduro has previously called Trump a “bandit and thief”.

Venezuela’s political opposition is urging its supporters to join a mass demonstration on October 12 against government moves to avoid a recall referendum on President Maduro.

The center-right-dominated Democratic Unity Roundtable wants the referendum held this year but Maduro is balking.

Maduro would almost certainly lose a recall vote, but timing is everything. If the vote takes place before January 10, then Maduro and his party will almost certainly lose power in an early election. But losing a referendum vote after the pivotal date would allow Maduro to appoint a successor to serve the remaining two years of his term.