Venezuela’s Maduro says he is ‘ready’ to meet Trump in sur­prise UN speech

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

Em­bat­tled Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro showed up un­ex­pect­edly at the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly on Wed­nes­day to “de­fend his coun­try” as six na­tions ac­cused him of crimes against hu­man­ity and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hinted at tak­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion. The sur­prise visit came af­ter Maduro threat­ened to skip the global gather­ing, cit­ing fears he could be as­sas­si­nated as his once-wealthy OPEC na­tion spi­rals into a bru­tal eco­nomic cri­sis and in­ter­na­tional pres­sure mounts for the so­cial­ist leader to step down.

In a ram­bling, 50-minute Gen­eral As­sem­bly speech di­rected mostly at U.S. pol­icy, Maduro spoke for well over the al­lot­ted time and said that the United States “wants to con­tinue giv­ing or­ders to the world as though the world were its own prop­erty.”

“From this very ros­trum a threat was is­sued yes­ter­day to gov­ern­ments of the world that or­ders should be obeyed and the U.S. pol­icy should be fol­lowed or else those coun­tries would suf­fer from the con­se­quences,” Maduro said. He was re­fer­ring to Trump’s speech Tues­day in which the U.S. pres­i­dent out­lined the ra­tio­nale for his more uni­lat­eral “Amer­ica-first” pol­icy.

It ap­peared un­likely that Maduro would cross paths with Trump, de­spite the U.S. pres­i­dent’s com­ments ear­lier in the day that he was will­ing to meet with his Venezue­lan coun­ter­part if it would help ease suf­fer­ing in the South Amer­i­can na­tion.

“I’m will­ing to meet with any­body any­time I can (to) save lives, help peo­ple,” Trump said as he was pum­meled by re­porters’ ques­tions about whether the U.S. would ever in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily to re­move Maduro.

Maduro re­sponded to the meet­ing com­ments in kind, say­ing that he and Trump “cer­tainly have our dif­fer­ences, but that is what we have to di­a­logue about.”

“Don­ald Trump said he was wor­ried about Venezuela, he wanted to help Venezuela,” Maduro said. “Good. I stand ready to talk with an open agenda on ev­ery­thing that he might wish to talk about with the United States of Amer­ica.”

On Wed­nes­day, pres­i­dents from five con­ser­va­tive Latin Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments and Canada’s prime min­is­ter met in New York and signed a com­plaint with the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, ask­ing it to in­ves­ti­gate Maduro on charges of crimes against hu­man­ity.

It’s the first time that mem­ber coun­tries have re­ferred an­other coun­try to the Nether­lands-based U.N. court. They pointed to a hu­man rights re­port ac­cus­ing Venezue­lan se­cu­rity forces of car­ry­ing out ar­bi­trary ar­rests, mur­ders, ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions, tor­ture, sex­ual abuse and rape on or­ders from Maduro’s gov­ern­ment.

“To re­main in­dif­fer­ent or spec­u­la­tive in front of this re­al­ity could be per­ceived as be­ing com­plicit with the regime,” said Paraguayan For­eign Min­is­ter An­dres Ro­driguez Pe­dotti. “We are not go­ing to be com­plicit.”

Venezuela’s ousted chief pros­e­cu­tor, Luisa Ortega, mean­while, called on the United States to take ad­van­tage of Maduro’s visit to ar­rest him on charges of or­ga­nized crime, cor­rup­tion and geno­cide. A small group of Venezue­lans shouted “As­sas­sin!” as they protested his pres­ence out­side the U.N.

Maduro’s trip came a day af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on four mem­bers of his in­ner cir­cle, in­clud­ing his wife and Venezuela’s vice pres­i­dent, on al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. Trump also sug­gested Maduro could be eas­ily top­pled in a mil­i­tary coup, echo­ing com­ments first floated last year that some sort of “mil­i­tary so­lu­tion” might be needed to re­store Venezuela’s democ­racy.

“These are il­le­gal uni­lat­eral sanc­tions im­posed on us,” Maduro said in his speech, re­flect­ing pre­vi­ous com­ments about ear­lier sanc­tions.

Upon ar­rival, Maduro held meet­ings with Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Ro­hani and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov — both of whose coun­tries, like Venezuela, are un­der U.S. fi­nan­cial sanc­tions.

Ad­dress­ing the U.S. threats, Lavrov said af­ter­ward that “we are ready to of­fer al­laround as­sis­tance for all of your plans,” Rus­sian news agen­cies re­ported.

Maduro has been seek­ing a meet­ing with Trump for al­most two years and has watched with frus­tra­tion as the U.S. leader has talked with Amer­i­can ad­ver­saries like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin while shun­ning Venezue­lan en­treaties.

Citgo, a sub­sidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil com­pany, was a ma­jor cor­po­rate donor to Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee. Maduro also this year freed a for­mer Utah mis­sion­ary jailed for more than two years on weapons charges in a bid to im­prove re­la­tions with the White House.

His de­sire for some sort of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the U.S. has in­creased as in­ter­na­tional pres­sure has been build­ing on his so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment at a time of hy­per­in­fla­tion and wide­spread food and medicine short­ages.

An es­ti­mated 2.3 mil­lion Venezue­lans have fled into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries in the last four years, threat­en­ing to up­set re­gional sta­bil­ity.

Maduro had not at­tended the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly since 2015.

---As­so­ci­ated Press

Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro ad­dresses the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York on Wed­nes­day. (Copy­right 2018 The As­so­ci­ated Press.)

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