Venezuelan wants to meet Trump
Called dictator by president, Maduro seeks better relations
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro said Thursday that he wants a meeting with President Donald Trump — the same man he has ridiculed as an imperial magnate and blasted for U.S. sanctions against officials in his socialist administration.
In a lengthy address to the 545 members of a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly, Maduro instructed Venezuela’s foreign minister to approach the United States about arranging a telephone conversation or meeting with Trump.
“Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand,” the socialist president said, adding that he wants as strong a relationship with the U.S. as he has with Russia.
The remarks came shortly after Maduro forcefully warned the U.S. president that Venezuela “will never give in.”
The Trump administration has called Maduro a “dictator” and issued sanctions against him and more than two dozen other former and current officials, accusing Maduro’s government of violating human rights and undermining the country’s democracy amid an escalating political and financial crisis.
On Thursday, Credit Suisse bank banned the trading and use of Venezuelan bonds.
The bank will no longer trade or accept as collateral two types of Venezuelan securities as well as any bonds the country issued from June 1 going forward, according to a company spokesman who was not authorized to give her name. Further, any businesses that wish to do business with Venezuela and deal in any assets there will have to go through additional screening.
In the memo, the bank cited “recent developments and the political climate” in the country for the ban.
Venezuela is facing mounting international criticism over its crackdown on opponents and moves to consolidate power, including the selection of the constitutional assembly controlled by Maduro.
National Assembly President Julio Borges, leader of the country’s opposition, has sent more than a dozen letters to leading global banks warning them of the risk to their reputations and bottom line if they throw a lifeline to Maduro.
On Wednesday, a fifth opposition mayor in Venezuela was removed from his post and ordered under arrest in the continuing crackdown on Maduro’s adversaries.
A small group of young people, some of them masked, set up barricades of strewn metal objects in the eastern Caracas district of El Hatillo on Thursday to protest the previous day’s Supreme Court decision to order Mayor David Smolansky imprisoned for 15 months for not obeying orders to shut down the protests.
The “dictatorship” can’t be allowed “to hunt down, imprison and treat our mayors like criminals,” said Andres Paez, a lawyer who joined the protest.
Smolansky, a former student activist, issued a video from an undisclosed location in which he called on residents of El Hatillo to take to the streets to uphold their right to representation against what he called the government’s “political firing squad.”
“I want to tell you all that I continue being a public servant by vocation and conviction,” Smolansky said. “My commitment to restoring freedom in Venezuela remains intact.”
His arrest was ordered by the government-stacked Supreme Court less than 48 hours after it levied a similar sentence against Ramon Muchacho, another Caracas-area mayor. Opposition leaders decried both rulings, calling them part of an ongoing campaign by the high court to illegally remove anti-government mayors from their elected posts.
According to their figures, about a third of the nation’s opposition mayors have been removed from office or jailed or are under threat of arrest.
Gerardo Blyde, an opposition mayor of Baruta, a city of more than 350,000 near the capital, equated it to a sort of “Russian roulette.”
“This is a continued coup against municipal public authority,” he said.
Their power compromised by the constitutional assembly, opposition parties nevertheless have said they will participate in gubernatorial elections this year, a choice they described as an act of defiance. Yet Maduro’s allies made clear their intentions, stating they decide who gets to run for office.
“The question is not whether we participate or not, but which decision contributes better to overcome this dictatorial regime,” Andres Velasquez, an opposition party leader, said Wednesday at a Caracas news conference held by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the main coalition fighting Maduro’s socialist autocracy. “It’s our duty to participate. By not doing so, we would be validating the dictatorship.”
The Dec. 10 elections were supposed to have been held last year.
Diodsado Cabello, the second-in-command of the socialist party and a delegate to the constitutional assembly, said gubernatorial candidates must win its approval.
“If you think, embittered citizen sitting at home, that now you are going to go to write yourself in after you called out to set Venezuela on fire and traveled the world calling for a Venezuelan invasion, you’re mistaken,” he said on his weekly television program.
Information for this article was contributed by Joshua Goodman, Christine Armario and Fabiola Sanchez of The Associated Press and by Noris Soto, Andrew Rosati and Nathan Crooks of Bloomberg News.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (center), his wife Cilia Flores (left) and Constitutional Assembly President Delcy Rodriguez wave Thursday as they arrive to the National Assembly building for a session with the Constitutional Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela.