Senior U.S. officials travel to Venezuela, focus on safety of detained Americans

Photo: EFE/ Prensa Miraflores

 

Senior U.S. government officials have quietly traveled to Caracas in the latest bid to bring home detained Americans and rebuild relations with the South American oil giant as the war in Ukraine drags on, forcing the U.S. to recalibrate other foreign policy objectives.

By NBC News

Jun 28, 2022

A U.S. State Department spokesperson described the trip as a welfare visit focused on the safety of several U.S. citizens detained in Caracas, including a group of oil executives from Houston-based Citgo jailed more than four years ago. The delegation includes Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy on hostage affairs, as well as Ambassador James Story, who heads the U.S. government’s Venezuelan Affairs Unit out of neighboring Colombia.

President Nicolás Maduro confirmed the visit during televised remarks, saying the delegation would meet with a trusted ally, National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, to “give continuity to the bilateral agenda between the government of the United States and the government of Venezuela.”

The visit follows a surprise trip in March by the two officials and Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council director for the Western Hemisphere. That was the first White House trip to the county in more than two decades.

That trip resulted in the release of two American citizens who the U.S. considered unjustly detained and a promise from Maduro to jumpstart talks with his opponents. Months earlier, he had suspended the negotiations, led by Norwegian diplomats in México, after a key ally was extradited to the U.S. on money-laundering charges.

It’s unclear what else the officials are seeking to accomplish during the mission. But high on the list are likely to be Maduro’s demand that the U.S. lift crippling oil sanctions that have exacerbated hardships in what was once South America’s most prosperous nation.

Upon arrival in Caracas, Story met for two hours with Juan Guaidó, according to someone close to the leader of the U.S.-backed opposition. The two discussed efforts to jumpstart negotiations in México, according to the person on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

Since the March trip, both the Biden administration and Venezuela’s socialist government have shown a willingness to engage after years of hostilities between Washington and Caracas over Maduro’s 2018 re-election, which was marred by irregularities. The U.S. and other nations withdrew recognition of Maduro after that election, and instead, recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

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