Latin America

US and Venezuela hold new round of “discreet talks” over relations

Top State Department official meets with controversial National Assembly speaker in Haiti

From left: Thomas Shannon, Haitian President Michell Martelly, Delcy Rodríguez, Diosdado Cabello, and an unidentified official.
From left: Thomas Shannon, Haitian President Michell Martelly, Delcy Rodríguez, Diosdado Cabello, and an unidentified official.Venezuelan Foreign Ministry

In a surprise encounter in Haiti, a top US State Department official has held a private meeting with Venezuelan National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello and his country’s foreign minister Delcy Rodríguez. News of the discussions – aimed at dealing with the deep rifts in bilateral relations – were confirmed on Sunday by Washington and Caracas.

The discreet meeting, which lasted more than an hour in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, took place as both countries participated in a mini-summit focusing on international aid for Haiti’s slow-paced recovery from a devastating earthquake that hit the country in 2010.

The discreet meeting took place during a mini-summit focusing on international aid for Haiti

While the government in Caracas said that the meeting with US State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon was aimed at normalizing relations, a spokesman in Washington declined to give any details of what was discussed.

The encounter comes just weeks after an explosive report appeared in The Wall Street Journal alleging that Cabello – considered the second-most-powerful man after President Nicolás Maduro – and other top Venezuelan government and military officials are members of a powerful narcotics cartel, which is allegedly under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The newspaper cited a host of US Department of Justice investigators, who said that prosecutors have been taking testimonies from former Venezuelan officials who have defected to the United States and have become protected witnesses.

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Relations sunk to their lowest point when the White House in March expanded a list of sanctioned Venezuelans, whose bank accounts in the United States have been frozen and visas canceled, for alleged public corruption and crackdowns on government opposition leaders.

Tensions between the two nations have been high over the years, but both countries have been discreetly holding behind-the-scenes talks over the past few weeks.

Shannon made a second trip to Caracas to meet with Maduro on May 12 after he had been invited for talks to the Venezuelan capital on the eve of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, where President Barack Obama eventually exchanged a few words with Maduro in a hallway.

In late April, Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, announced that Washington was open to considering Venezuela’s request to accept the country’s current charge d’affaires in the United States, Maximilian Arveláez, to become ambassador to Washington.

Tensions have been high over the years, but both countries have held behind-the-scenes talks in recent weeks

The countries have not had ambassadors since 2010.

Top representatives from Venezuela and the United States are expected to come face-to-face later Monday and on Tuesday in Washington, where they will take part in the 45thGeneral Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS).

The Venezuelan foreign minister has not confirmed her presence, but her deputy minister for North American affairs, Alejandro Fleming, is expected to fly to Washington for the assembly. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is recovering from surgery after her broke his leg while riding a bike in France on May 30, will be represented by Anthony Blinken, his deputy secretary of state.

Incoming OAS Secretary General Luis Almargo has said that the organization should take a more active role in “supporting democracy and human rights in Venezuela.”

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