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U.S. offers to lift Venezuela sanctions for power-sharing deal

U.S. offers to lift Venezuela sanctions for power-sharing deal
Hundreds of Venezuelans take to the streets in Caracas on May 1, a day after members of the opposition clashed with government forces. File Photo by Miguel Gutiérrez/EPA-EFE

April 1 (UPI) -- The Trump administration has offered to lift sanctions from Venezuela if the opposition party and President Nicolas Maduro's socialist party create an interim transitional government with the aim of holding a free and fair presidential election in less than a year.

The State Department unveiled the 13-point plan Tuesday after more than a year of attempting to strong-arm Maduro from power with escalating sanctions imposed against him, his government and those the Trump administration accuses of keeping him at the country's helm.

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Under the plan, Maduro would relinquish his hold as leader of the country to the interim government, which will consist of two people elected from Juan Guaido's opposition party, two people elected from Maduro's socialist party and a fifth member chosen by the four elected officials to act as interim president. That person, then, will be barred from running for president.

If the conditions of the framework are met -- specifically that a council of state is in place and is governing and foreign security forces have left the South American nation -- then the United States will suspend sanctions on the government and its oil sector. Those sanctions would then be revoked once elections are held and observers deem them to be free and fair.

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Sanctions imposed against individual officials would be lifted once they step down. The plan also consists of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate "serious acts of violence" that have occurred since 1999, when former socialist President Victor Chavez began his rule, which ended in 2013 with his death.

"The basic outline is simple: We call for a transitional government that would govern for nine to 12 months and hold free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections," U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters Tuesday. "The United States will recognize the result of a free and fair election no matter which party wins."

Venezuela flat out rejected the framework late Tuesday, describing it as unconstitutional and in disregard of "the democratic will expressed by the Venezuelan people at the polls."

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"The U.S. pseudo-proposal confirms that the officials of that country completely ignore Venezuela's legal framework and how its institutions work," the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The Trump administration began its maximum pressure campaign against the Maduro regime after his 2018 election was deemed illegitimate, backing instead opposition leader Guaido who appointed himself interim president. Since then, more than 55 mostly Western countries have supported Guaido's claim to the interim presidency.

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Abrams said the framework proposal follows suggestions made by Guaido and his team last year and which he repeated over the weekend.

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What has changed since the proposal was first floated is that the regime is worse off, he said, adding the cost of its main export, oil, has not only dropped but the country is producing nearly half as many barrels at under 500,000 a day.

"The income the regime is getting from the one thing it has to sell, which is oil, has dropped precipitously," he said. "So, we think there's a lot more pressure on the regime."

In a statement, Guaido said it is not only the United States but other nations that support this framework.

"The correct steps are being taken to save Venezuela," he said, calling on Maduro to "assume his responsibility and accept the offer made by the international community."

The State Department's offer comes on the heels of the Justice Department charging Maduro and members of his cadre with drug trafficking, which the embattled leader rejected out of hand.

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the framework offer and the charges are evidence the United States has lost direction with its foreign policy toward the South American country.

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"The Trump administration's actions during recent days against Venezuela cannot be labeled in any other way: They are miserable," the Foreign Ministry said.

When asked if the indictments will force Maduro to cling ever more tightly to power, Abrams responded that the indictments are not a matter of policy as sanctions are but the plan was built less to address Maduro and more to appeal to the Venezuelan public.

"By leaving power, Maduro loses a great dal," Abrams said. "It's obvious that Maduro is going to resist any plan that calls for him to leave power, but the framework that we've proposed, we think, protects the legitimate rights of the Chavista party to contest elections and to be treated absolutely fairly in a transitional government."

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