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LATIN AMERICA | 04-05-2019 09:36

Lima Group asks Cuba to join talks on Venezuelan stand-off

Trump and Putin discuss this week’s uprising, as Guaidó demands more protests.

Foreign ministers of the Lima Group huddling over the Venezuela crisis in Peru yesterday decided to invite Cuba to join them in their quest for a solution by including the island in their International Contact Group currently consisting of eight European countries and four Latin American not belonging to the Lima Group.

They also proposed “urgent” further meetings “to seek convergence with the common purpose of achieving a return to democracy in Venezuela”.

The emergency meeting, bringing together ministers or delegates from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela (represented by opposition leader Julio Borges), was a reaction to Tuesday’s military unrest. The video conference participation of United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was planned but there was no contact.

The Lima Group also appealed to Russia, Turkey and all countries still supporting “the illegitimate régime of Nicolás Maduro to favour the transition to democracy.”

In Washington, US President Donald Trump said he held “very positive” talks yesterday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the crisis in Venezuela, where Washington is pushing to oust the Moscowbacked president.

The US leader adopted a strikingly conciliatory tone following a more than hour-long conversation with Putin, coming days after an abortive military uprising in support of Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader seeking to drive Maduro from power.

“It was a very positive conversation,” Trump said. “He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving.”

Trump’s tone came in stark contrast to that of his top advisors, in particular US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who charged this week that the socialist Maduro had been poised to flee to Cuba, but was talked out of it by the Russians.

Recognised as interim leader by more than 50 countries including the United States, Guaidó has vowed to keep the pressure up on Maduro, urging his supporters to stage peaceful demonstrations at military bases Saturday in a fresh bid to rally the Armed Forces behind him.

US-Russian tensions have spiked over the months-long stand-off in Venezuela, and the Kremlin’s assessment of the Trump-Putin call differed substantially from that coming from the White House.

“Interference in internal affairs, attempts to change the leadership in Caracas through force, undermine the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” said a Russian statement. “Vladimir Putin stated that only the Venezuelan people have the right to decide the future of their country.”

The US has imposed tough sanctions and Trump has refused to take the threat of military action off the table, in an intensifying campaign to drive Maduro from power.

Washington is insisting Maduro’s days are numbered – but experts say US options for breaking the stalemate are limited, and that Washington may have overestimated the opposition leader’s strength.

‘PEACEFULLY’

Guaidó plans to have his supporters mass outside military bases on Saturday, and deliver a proclamation to those inside, pleading with them to break with Maduro.

“Peacefully, civically... we are going to deliver a simple document, a proclamation to the Armed Forces to listen to the Venezuelan call, that a rapid transition is possible to produce free elections,” Guaidó told a press conference in Caracas.

Tensions in Venezuela have soared since Guaidó, the 35-year-old head of the National Assembly, invoked the constitution to declare himself acting president on January 23, claiming Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate.

On Tuesday the opposition leader called on the military to rise up against Maduro, and a small group heeded his call. But the movement petered out – with 25 rebel soldiers seeking asylum at the Brazilian Embassy in Caracas -– sparking two days of protests during which four people were killed and some 200 injured.

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