Signs of rap­proche­ment as US, Venezuela of­fi­cials meet


Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro says a re­cent meet­ing be­tween Venezue­lan and U. S. of­fi­cials has opened an im­por­tant chan­nel that could lead to­ward restora­tion of full diplo­matic re­la­tions.

Maduro’s com­ments came Mon­day night fol­low­ing a Satur­day meet­ing in Haiti that in­cluded Venezue­lan Na­tional Assem­bly head Dios­dado Ca­bello, For­eign Min­is­ter Delcy Ro­driguez and se­nior U.S. State Depart­ment of­fi­cial Tom Shan­non. Haitian Pres­i­dent Michel Martelly me­di­ated.

The State Depart­ment called the bi­lat­eral talks “pos­i­tive and pro­duc­tive.”

Re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries have rarely run smooth, but they de­te­ri­o­rated rapidly ear­lier this year af­ter Venezuela im­posed a visa re­quire­ment for U.S. tourists and or­dered the U.S. to slash its em­bassy staff in Cara­cas. Washington then de­clared Venezuela a se­cu­rity threat and im­posed sanc­tions on top of­fi­cials.

Maduro has of­ten ac­cused the U.S. of plot­ting to over­throw his so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment, and but he has re­cently backed off from more flam­boy­ant rhetoric, such as lead­ing weekly chants of “Gringo, go home.”

Dur­ing a na­tional tele­vi­sion ad­dress Mon­day night, he said the two coun­tries were now work­ing “to nor­mal­ize diplo­matic re­la­tions on the ba­sis of re­spect,” with Ca­bello, the coun­try’s sec­ond most pow­er­ful of­fi­cial, head­ing up the ef­fort from Cara­cas.

The coun­tries have not ex­changed am­bas­sadors since 2010. The U. S. nev­er­the­less main­tains deep eco­nomic ties with Venezuela, par­tic­u­larly in its energy sec­tor. Venezuela was one of the top five sup­pli­ers of for­eign oil to the U.S., ac­cord­ing to a 2013 State Depart­ment fact sheet.

Ca­bello has been lash­ing out at re­ports that U.S. pros­e­cu­tors are in­ves­ti­gat­ing him for pos­si­ble ties to co­caine traf­fick­ing and money laun­der­ing. He has em­phat­i­cally de­nied that he heads a drug car­tel com­posed of se­nior gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and has promised to sue the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional out­lets that have pub­lished re­ports re­lated to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Shan­non and other U.S. diplo­mats have been mak­ing trips to Cara­cas since April for low-pro­file meet­ings with top Venezue­lan of­fi­cials.

Venezue­lan of­fi­cials have sug­gested that the roll­back of this year’s U.S. sanc­tions would have to be part of any deal to re­store re­la­tions.

The U.S. has re­peat­edly called on Venezuela to free a group of im­pris­oned op­po­si­tion lead­ers con­sid­ered po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers by hu­man rights groups, the high­est-pro­file of whom is Leopoldo Lopez, a for­mer mayor jailed for his in­volve­ment with 2014’s antigov­ern­ment street protests.

On Tues­day, a group of op­po­si­tion sen­a­tors from Brazil who planned to visit some of the pris­on­ers Thurs­day said Venezuela had re­fused to is­sue a land­ing per­mit for their gov­ern­ment plane. The politi­cians said they would con­sider book­ing a com­mer­cial flight.

Such vis­its have be­come largely sym­bolic since Venezuela gen­er­ally blocks in­ter­na­tional visi­tors from see­ing the pris­on­ers.

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