US to open new Venezuelan affairs office
The US has announced it is setting up a Venezuelan affairs unit in Colombia in an apparent acknowledgment by Washington that there will be no quick fix to Venezuela’s crisis and that a solution will have to come through diplomatic channels.
In a statement, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said the unit would be headed by charge d’affaires James Story, who was US ambassador to Caracas before the two countries broke off diplomatic relations this year and Washington closed its embassy in Venezuela.
The unit, which will be located at the US embassy in Bogotá, will interact “with the government of interim president Juan Guaidó, the democratically elected National Assembly, Venezuelan civil society and the people of Venezuela”, Mr Pompeo said.
The US has been trying to oust Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro since the start of the year and replace him with Mr Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition and the head of Congress. Washington says Mr Maduro is a dictator who extended his grip on power through bogus elections last year.
Mr Maduro, backed by his armed forces and the Venezuelan socialist party plus Russia, China and Cuba, has resisted all efforts to remove him.
Washington’s public display of support for Mr Guaidó and his team comes amid worries that his continuing failure to oust the Maduro government is weakening him politically.
Mr Guaidó has built up a network of representatives in friendly capitals around the world and at international institutions including the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States, but they have had little clout.
On Wednesday Mr Guaidó named five new “presidential commissioners” to oversee different parts of what he regards as his interim government.
They included his mentor Leopoldo López, a former presidential hopeful and political prisoner, who he named as “presidential commissioner for the centre of government”.
While Mr López remains an influential figure in Venezuelan politics there is little he can do for now. He has been holed up at the Spanish embassy in Caracas since late April when he dramatically broke house arrest to support Mr Guaidó in an attempted uprising against the government, which ultimately failed.
The best bet for a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the Venezuelan crisis appears to lie in talks between the government and opposition, brokered by Norway.
Mr Maduro boycotted the last round of talks in early August in protest at US sanctions, but Mr Guaidó said on Tuesday his team was in contact with the Norwegians with the aim of resuming negotiations.