Venezue­lan wants to meet Trump

Called dic­ta­tor by pres­i­dent, Maduro seeks bet­ter re­la­tions

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - COM­PILED BY DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE RE­PORTS

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.

AP/ARI­ANA CUBILLOS

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.

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