Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro revealed he had been in talks with the Trump administration for months, even as the US ramped up its sanctions.
The US is one of more than 50 nations which do not recognize Nicolás Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
On August 20, President Maduro said that talks with the Trump administration had been going on for months.
However, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the only thing being discussed was Nicolás Maduro’s departure.
Speaking on TV, President Maduro said: “Just as I have sought dialogue in Venezuela, I have sought a way in which President Trump really listens to Venezuela.”
President Donald Trump confirmed on August 20 that his administration was “talking to various representatives of Venezuela”.
He said: “I don’t want to say who, but we are talking at a very high level.”
President Maduro had suggested that he authorized the back-channel discussions.
However, John Bolton cast those contacts in a very different light, tweeting: “As the President has repeatedly stated, to end the pilfering of the Venezuelan people’s resources and continued repression, Maduro must go. The only items discussed by those who are reaching out behind Maduro’s back are his departure and free and fair elections.”
John Bolton said President Trump’s aim was to “to end the pilfering of the Venezuelan people’s resources and continued repression” and that to that end, President Maduro “must go”.
The US imposed sweeping sanctions earlier this month aimed at increasing pressure on President Maduro to step down.
Venezuela has been caught up in a struggle for power between President Maduro and the leader of the country’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó.
Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president in January, claiming that the elections which brought Nicolás Maduro to power for a second term were fraudulent.
While Juan Guaidó has gained the backing of over 50 countries he has so far failed to remove Nicolás Maduro from power.
Talks between the two sides hosted by Barbados and mediated by Norway recently stalled after President Maduro denounced the opposition for backing the sweeping sanctions imposed by the US.
According to the UN, Venezuela is suffering one of the worst economic crises in history with a quarter of its 30 million population in need of aid.
More than four million Venezuelans have left the country over the past years.
Nicolás Maduro’s government has come under fire by the international community for a number of reasons.
When opposition parties gained a majority in Venezuela’s National Assembly, the president created a rival body stacked with his supporters which assumed many of its powers. His 2018 re-election was controversial, and labeled as rigged by his critics, after many rivals were barred from running or fled the country.
Protests and demonstrations erupted into violence and were met with a crackdown by authorities which saw civilians killed.
The US has been a frequent target of Nicolás Maduro’s anger.
President Maduro has accused the US, and John Bolton in particular, of trying to kill him, without supplying any evidence. He claims that his opposition is backed by foreign powers, rather than a domestic resistance to his authority.
Government officials were the first target of US sanctions against Nicolás Maduro’s government – but earlier this year, it brought new restrictions forward on the state oil company, which is a major player in the national economy.
That was followed in August by sweeping sanctions that froze all property of the government in the US, and blocks American companies doing business with Venezuela.