Venezuela hardens tone, demands US lift sanctions in exchange for dialogue

National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez says it is ‘immoral’ for those who demanded punitive measures to now call for free and fair elections

Jorge Rodriguez with Rafael Correa, this Thursday in Caracas.
Jorge Rodriguez with Rafael Correa, this Thursday in Caracas.Carlos Becerra (Bloomberg)

Venezuela’s Chavista regime has decided to escalate the rhetoric in its political negotiations with the opposition. National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, one of the most influential figures in government, has made any hypothetical agreement at the negotiating table conditional on the United States first lifting, definitively and without conditions, all economic sanctions against the country.

“I affirm it responsibly: Venezuela is not going to sign any agreement with that sector of the Venezuelan opposition until it is one hundred percent free of sanctions, until the 765 unilateral coercive measures signed by Donald Trump and Barack Obama are lifted,” said Rodríguez, adding that it is “immoral” that those who “requested international sanctions against Venezuela, now call for free and fair elections.”

These remarks were made at a government event in Plaza Bolívar, in downtown Caracas, as part of Anti-Imperialism Day. Rodríguez said that Chavismo – the political movement founded by the late Hugo Chávez – “is not afraid of any election” and that those who requested international sanctions against the country, meaning opposition leaders, must answer to the justice system. He added that “dialogues are not meant for pardons, but for agreeing, inasmuch as possible, on free, fair, competitive and democratic elections and where there is no forgetting.”

The statements by Rodríguez – considered one of the leading figures of the “moderate” wing of the Nicolás Maduro administration – come at a time when talks in Mexico have been stalled for weeks. The government has been progressively hardening its tone while the opposition parties have been working to find a single candidate to represent them all at the primaries next October.

At Miraflores Palace, no one conceals their anger at the delay in unblocking measures approved by both sides to direct the nation’s frozen assets towards addressing the country’s social emergency. These assets were going to be administered by the United Nations, but the money, for now, has not started to circulate, and President Nicolás Maduro blames the United States for the delay.

The US has made several concessions to the Venezuelan government in recent times: the release of two nephews of the first lady, Cilia Flores, imprisoned on drug trafficking charges; the lifting of sanctions against businessman Eric Malpica Flores, another nephew of the president’s wife, and the concession granted to Chevron to reactivate crude oil production in the country, which could bring new agreements to the fore.

But the Venezuela government feels this is not enough. A few weeks ago, Maduro himself was a guest on Con el mazo dando, an opinion program run by Diosdado Cabello, the regime’s second-in-command, and both men mocked the opposition leadership and the announcement of primaries. “I have told Jorge Rodríguez, with these people [the Venezuelan opposition] there is no point in negotiating anything, it’s a waste of time, they have no word of their own. They only obey orders from the United States,” Maduro said.

Pedro Benítez, a historian and political analyst, considers that this escalating rhetoric “is part of a characteristic style of the Maduro government in these cases: shouting and vociferating to obtain space, to buy time, always waving threats. It has not worked badly for them.”

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