White House blames Maduro for op­po­si­tion leader’s death

Trump looks to in­crease pres­sure on Venezuela

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Deirdre Sh­es­green Con­tribut­ing: Erin Kelly and the As­so­ci­ated Press.

WASH­ING­TON – The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Wed­nes­day blamed Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro’s regime for the death of an op­po­si­tion leader and vowed to ratchet up pres­sure on Maduro’s gov­ern­ment “un­til democ­racy is re­stored” to that South Amer­i­can coun­try. At is­sue is the death of Fer­nando Al­ban, a Maduro critic and op­po­si­tion party coun­cil­man, who was de­tained Fri­day by Venezue­lan in­tel­li­gence au­thor­i­ties af­ter he re­turned from New York. Al­ban died Mon­day while still in cus­tody. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials said he com­mit­ted sui­cide; crit­ics be­lieve he was as­sas­si­nated. Al­ban was re­port­edly ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of be­ing in­volved with the failed as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on Maduro in Au­gust. The United Na­tions has said it will in­ves­ti­gate Al­ban’s death and other hu­man rights abuses in Venezuela. In its state­ment Wed­nes­day, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion made it clear it holds Maduro’s regime re­spon­si­ble for Al­ban’s death. “The United States con­demns the Maduro regime’s in­volve­ment in the death of Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion coun­cil­man Fer­nando Al­ban,” White House spokes­woman Sarah San­ders said. “Venezue­lan au­thor­i­ties took Al­ban into cus­tody on Oct. 5, upon his re­turn from the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly, where he spoke to the world about the im­por­tance of re­turn­ing democ­racy to the peo­ple of Venezuela,” she said. “He died three days later while in the cus­tody of Venezuela’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice.” The White House al­ready has taken a hard line against Maduro’s gov­ern­ment, seen as a cor­rupt and re­pres­sive left-wing regime. The ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed sanc­tions on Venezuela soon af­ter Maduro’s re-elec­tion in May, and Trump has ac­cused the so­cial­ist politi­cian of bankrupt­ing Venezuela and driv­ing its peo­ple into “ab­ject poverty.” The White House state­ment on Al­ban stands in sharp con­trast to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s more muted re­ac­tion to the dis­ap­pear­ance of a dis­si­dent Saudi Ara­bian jour­nal­ist, Ja­mal Khashoggi. More than a week ago, Khashoggi en­tered Saudi Ara­bia’s con­sulate in Turkey for some rou­tine pa­per­work. He has not been seen since. Turk­ish of­fi­cials al­lege he was killed in the com­pound; Saudi of­fi­cials say he left the build­ing un­harmed. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials waited un­til Tues­day be­fore com­ment­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, and they have not ac­cused Saudi Ara­bia, a key U.S. ally, of malfea­sance. “We’re not go­ing to make any judg­ments about what had hap­pened to him,” State De­part­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said Tues­day. “The United States is cer­tainly con­cerned about his where­abouts,” she said, adding that se­nior State De­part­ment of­fi­cials have spo­ken with their Saudi coun­ter­parts about the mat­ter. Trump did not com­ment un­til Mon­day when asked him about the mat­ter. “I am con­cerned about it. I don’t like hear­ing about it,” Trump said then. “And hope­fully that will sort it­self out. Right now, no­body knows any­thing about it.” Nauert re­jected sug­ges­tions that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had been slow and equiv­o­cal in its re­sponse to Khashoggi’s fate. “Some­times we de­cide to con­duct our con­ver­sa­tions and to con­duct our diplo­macy more pri­vately than pub­licly be­cause we feel that that could have the best out­come, and I’ll leave it at that,” she said.

AR­I­ANA CUBILLOS/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has ac­cused Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro of bankrupt­ing the Venezue­lan peo­ple.

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