Trump ally may have bro­ken Venezuela sanc­tions, US of­fi­cials say

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Joshua Good­man

MI­AMI — Erik Prince, a ma­jor Re­pub­li­can donor and founder of con­tro­ver­sial se­cu­rity firm Black­wa­ter, has been re­ferred to the U.S. Trea­sury Depart­ment for pos­si­ble sanc­tions vi­o­la­tions tied to his re­cent trip to Venezuela for a meet­ing with a top aide of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, two se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials said.

There’s no in­di­ca­tion that Prince, whose sis­ter is Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy

DeVos, will be sanc­tioned for the meet­ing last month in Cara­cas with Venezuela’s Vice Pres­i­dent Delcy Ro­driguez.

But the fact the visit was flagged un­der­scores the con­cern of of­fi­cials in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion over what ap­peared to be an unau­tho­rized diplo­matic out­reach to Maduro. This, as sup­port for op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaidó in­side Venezuela — if not Washabout in­g­ton — ap­pears to be wan­ing.

The U.S. of­fi­cials spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they aren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly.

Lit­tle has been re­vealed about Prince’s sur­prise trip to Cara­cas last month. But the mere pres­ence in Venezuela of a busi­ness­man with long­stand­ing ties to the U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment prompted ques­tions

whether he was there to open a se­cret back chan­nel to Maduro on be­half of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, some­thing the State Depart­ment has stren­u­ously de­nied.

It also marks some­thing of a re­ver­sal for Prince, who ear­lier in 2019 was thought to have been pitch­ing a plan to form a mer­ce­nary army to top­ple Maduro.

A per­son fa­mil­iar with Prince’s visit said he had been asked to travel to Venezuela by an uniden­ti­fied Euro­pean busi­ness­man with long-stand­ing ties to the oil-rich na­tion. The per­son said Prince did not dis­cuss any busi­ness nor re­ceive any­thing of value dur­ing his trip — ac­tions that would have vi­o­lated U.S. fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on Maduro’s so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment.

The pur­pose of the trip was to meet key play­ers in the cri­sis-wracked na­tion, not to serve as an emis­sary for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to the per­son, who isn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the visit and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The per­son said Prince, a for­mer Navy SEAL, con­tin­ues to sup­port the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal of re­mov­ing Maduro but be­lieves State Depart­ment ef­forts to reach that goal have failed and new al­ter­na­tives — which the per­son did not spec­ify — need to be tried.

Be­fore trav­el­ing, Prince no­ti­fied the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and Trea­sury Depart­ment about his plans and re­ceived no ob­jec­tions, the per­son said.


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