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US Plans for Venezuela Transition      03/31 07:02

   MIAMI (AP) -- The Trump administration is prepared to lift sanctions on 
Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government 
representing allies of both Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, 
U.S. officials said.

   The plan, which will be presented Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 
echoes a proposal made over the weekend by Guaid that shows how growing 
concerns about the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm the South American 
country's already collapsed health system and crippled economy, are reviving 
U.S. attempts to pull the military apart from Maduro.

   What's being dubbed the "Democratic Framework for Venezuela" would require 
Maduro and Guaid to step aside and hand power to a five-member council of state 
to govern the country until presidential and parliamentary elections can be 
held in late 2020, according to a written summary of the proposal seen by The 
Associated Press.

   Four of the members would be appointed by the opposition-controlled National 
Assembly that Guaid heads. To draw buy-in from the ruling socialist party, a 
two-third majority would be required. The fifth member, who would serve as 
interim president until elections are held, would be named by the other council 
members. Neither Maduro nor Guaid would be on the council.

   "The hope is that this setup promotes the selection of people who are very 
broadly respected and known as people who can work with the other side," U.S. 
Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told the AP in a preview of 
the plan. "Even people in the regime look at this and realize Maduro has to go, 
but the rest of us are being treated well and fairly."

   The plan also outlines for the first time U.S. requirements for lifting 
sanctions against Maduro officials and the oil industry --- the source of 
nearly all of Venezuela's foreign income.

   While those accused of grave human rights abuses and drug trafficking are 
not eligible for sanctions relief, individuals who are blacklisted because of 
the position they hold inside the Maduro government --- such as members of the 
supreme court, electoral council and the rubber-stamp constitutional assembly 
--- would benefit.

   But for sanctions to vanish, Abrams said the council would need to be 
functioning and all foreign military forces --- from Cuba or Russia --- would 
need to leave the country.

   "What we're hoping is that this really intensifies a discussion inside the 
army, Chavismo, the ruling socialist party and the regime on how to get out of 
the terrible crisis they're in," Abrams said.

   For months, the U.S. has relied on economic and diplomatic pressure to try 
and break the military's support for Maduro and last week U.S. prosecutors 
indicted Maduro and key stakeholders --- including his defense minister and 
head of the supreme court --- on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

   Still, any power-sharing arrangement is unlikely to win Maduro's support 
unless the thorny issue of his future is addressed and he's protected from the 
U.S. justice system, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington 
Office on Latin America. While Venezuelans are protected from extradition by 
Hugo Chavez's 1999 constitution, the charter could be rewritten in a 
transition, he said.

   "It's a little hard to see how this is going to be convincing to the major 
players in the government," said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the 
Washington Office on Latin America. "They seem to think the military is going 
to step in, but that seems extremely unlikely."

   It also would require the support of Cuba, China or Russia, all of whom are 
key economic and political backers of Maduro. In a call Monday with Vladimir 
Putin, President Donald Trump reiterated that the situation in Venezuela is 
dire and told the Russian leader we all have an interest in seeing a democratic 
transition to end the ongoing crisis, according to a White House readout of the 
call.

   A senior administration official said Monday that the U.S. is willing to 
negotiate with Maduro the terms of his exit even in the wake of the 
indictments, which complicate his legal standing.

   But recalling the history of Gen. Manuel Noriega in Panama, who was removed 
in a U.S. invasion after being charged himself for drug trafficking, he 
cautioned that his options for a deal were running out.

   "History shows that those who do not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement 
agencies do not fare well, " the official said in a call with journalists on 
condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. policy. "Maduro probably regrets not 
taking the offer six months ago. We urge Maduro not to regret not taking it 
now."

   Guaid, who has been recognized by the U.S. and nearly 60 other countries as 
the lawful leader of the country following a widely viewed fraudulent 
re-election of Maduro, called on Saturday for the creation of a "national 
emergency government."

   He said international financial institutions are prepared to support a 
power-sharing interim government with $1.2 billion in loans to fight the 
pandemic. Guaido said the loans would be used to directly assist Venezuelan 
families who are expected to be harmed not only by the spread of the disease 
but also the economic shock from a collapse in oil prices, virtually the 
country's only source of hard currency.

   The spread of the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm Venezuela's already 
collapsed health system while depriving its crippled economy of oil revenue on 
which it almost exclusively depends for hard currency.

   The United Nations said Venezuela could be one of the nations hit hardest by 
the spread of the coronavirus, designating it a country for priority attention 
because of a health system marked by widespread shortages of medical supplies 
and a lack of water and electricity.

   Last September, Guaid proposed a similar transitional government in talks 
with Maduro officials sponsored by Norway, which never gained traction.

   But with the already bankrupt country running out of gasoline and seeing 
bouts of looting amid the coronavirus pandemic, calls have been growing for 
both the opposition and Maduro to set aside their bitter differences to head 
off a nightmare scenario.

   "The regime is under greater pressure than it has ever before," Abrams said. 


(KR)

 
 
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