Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed Washington on Wednesday in canceling scheduled talks with the political opposition, as his country has come under economic siege from the Trump administration.
On Monday, Trump announced a near-total economic embargo on the already suffering Latin American nation, putting a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the United States and barring transactions with it.
In response, Maduro “has decided to not send the Venezuelan delegation” to the latest round of talks, which were scheduled for Thursday and Friday and were to be held in Barbados and mediated by Norway, according to a statement.
Maduro attributed the cancellation to “the grave and brutal aggression” being “continuously … carried out by the Trump administration against Venezuela, which includes the illegal blocking of our economic, commercial and financial activities,” the statement read.
The dialogue was to be held with representatives of opposition leader Juan Guaido, the speaker of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself acting president in January.
Guaido is calling for new elections under the talks, while Maduro, who retains support from Venezuela’s military, demands a “democratic cohabitation” and refuses to leave office.
Guaido was swiftly recognized as Venezuela’s leader by Washington and is now recognized by about 50 countries.
A recent study from economists Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffery Sachs from Columbia University estimated that prior U.S. sanctions, imposed in two main stages by the Trump administration since 2017, have resulted in the deaths of about 40,000 Venezuelans.
The sanctions, they say, have prevented the country’s economy from recovering from its severe economic crisis and have significantly worsened shortages of food, medicine, and other goods.
Kate Kizer, the policy director at Win Without War, a leading progressive foreign policy advocacy group in the U.S., told The Globe Post this week that the new embargo would undermine international efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution while exacerbating human suffering and emboldening Maduro.
Opposition negotiator Stalin Gonzalez tweeted from Barbados that his side “would continue to search for an end to the crisis and rescue our democracy through truly free elections.”
Venezuela said it is not permanently canceling the talks, but rather will “review the mechanism of the process” to make sure it is “in harmony with the needs of our people,” the statement said.
Venezuela’s opposition considers Maduro a usurper over his re-election last year in a poll widely viewed as rigged.
Maduro has also been accused by the U.N. rights chief of a litany of serious abuses.
‘Yankee Go Home!’
In Caracas, thousands of government supporters dressed in red and waving Venezuelan flags marched against the U.S. sanctions on Wednesday.
Made up mostly of civilian militia and public sector employees, the crowd chanted: “Yankee go home!” and “Hands off Venezuela!”
“We’re struggling against this war that’s making life impossible,” Elena Flores, a 62-year-old government worker, told AFP.
Trump “is nervous, he’s anxious, he’s power-hungry, he wants to get his hands on Venezuela,” she added.
— venezuelanalysis.com (@venanalysis) August 7, 2019
Washington has threatened to “use every appropriate tool” to oust Maduro, and warned Venezuelan allies Russia and China on Tuesday against doing business with the regime.
China responded to the sanctions by telling the U.S. to stop “bullying” other countries.
Speaking at a small meeting in the east of Caracas, Guaido insisted the U.S. sanctions would affect only top regime officials and not the general population, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.
“They’re against the regime, against Maduro, the product of arrogance,” he said, also calling for the release of opposition legislator Juan Requesens, who was arrested a year ago and is accused of being behind an alleged drone attack against Maduro.
Some in Maduro’s inner circle have called for Guido and other opposition leaders to be punished for collaborating with the U.S. and openly seeking to overthrow the government threw military coup attempts.
“Enough impunity!” tweeted Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino. “Those who began the ‘game’ of asking for sanctions … with political purposes should be punished by law.”