Trump administration proposes new elections for Venezuela, in exchange for sanctions relief

The Trump administration on Tuesday offered a new pathway to ending the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, proposing a transition that would establish a temporary government to hold new elections -- a proposal that would include the eventual lifting of sanctions on the socialist country.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a statement, described the plan as a way of a “peaceful, democratic transition.” It is seen as a way of ending the crisis in Venezuela that deepened with elections last year, after which dictator Nicolas Maduro sought to cling to power.

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The U.S. and other countries recognize the interim government headed by Juan Guaido, and imposed sanctions on the Maduro regime and the country’s oil revenues. But as Maduro has clung to power, human rights abuses and mass poverty have worsened.

The U.S. plan proposes that both Maduro and Guaido step aside, while the members of the National Assembly return to create a transitional government to hold new presidential elections. It would also see the formation of a National Electoral Council and an independent Supreme Court.

“This means an end to the unjust prosecutions that have left dozens of members of Parliament in exile, four in prison, and many more barred from running for office—including Mr. Guaidó, who would continue as president of the National Assembly until new parliamentary and presidential elections,” Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special representative for Venezuela, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

“The U.S. will recognize the results of a free and fair election, no matter which party wins; what we oppose is the abuse of state power that enables one party to rule indefinitely,” he said.

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“We believe this framework protects the interests and equities of all Venezuelan people who desperately seek a resolution to their dire political, economic, and humanitarian crisis, and who know Venezuelans can have something better,” Pompeo said in a statement. “This framework can provide a path that ends the suffering and opens the path to a brighter future for Venezuela.”

Pompeo promised that sanctions would remain in effect until the Maduro regime accepts a “genuine political transition,” Pompeo said.

The Maduro regime reacted negatively to the plan. Maduro's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza dismissed the proposal, saying Maduro “never will betray the vote of confidence that the people gave him.”

One item that was not directly covered was the thorny issue of what would happen to Maduro if he eventually chose to leave office.

A senior administration official told The Associated Press that the U.S. is willing to negotiate with Maduro on the terms of his exit even in the wake of indictments against him and allies on drug-trafficking charges.

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The recent coronavirus outbreak has increased pressure on the country’s health care system and economy, a crisis that Pompeo said Maduro had failed to address appropriately.

“The United States has long been committed to finding a solution to the man-made crisis in Venezuela,” Pompeo said. “The urgency for this has become all the more serious in light of the Maduro regime’s failure to adequately prepare for and address the global COVID-19 pandemic.”