US officials make ‘welfare’ stop in Venezuela
Senior US officials have visited Venezuela to ensure the wellbeing of several American citizens in custody, as well as mending ties with the government in Caracas. The trip comes as Washington maintains a raft of harsh sanctions on the Venezuelan economy.
A delegation led by US Ambassador to Venezuela James Story and Roger Carstens, the presidential envoy for hostage affairs, traveled to Caracas on Monday “for discussions about the welfare and safety of US nationals in Venezuela,” State Department officials confirmed to CBS and the Associated Press.
While the officials did not specify whether the talks centered on any specific individuals, several US citizens are currently detained in the country, including a group of oil company executives jailed more than four years ago.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed the trip during a national address, saying the US officials met with Jorge Rodriguez, the president of National Assembly, to “give continuity to the bilateral agenda between the government of the United States and the government of Venezuela.”
The visit follows a previous trip in March – the first official White House delegation sent in more than 20 years – which resulted in the release of two Americans. At the time, Maduro also agreed to resume talks with his political opposition, led by Juan Guaido, who is recognized by Washington as Venezuela’s ‘interim president’.
Ambassador Story met with Guaido for two hours soon after arriving in Caracas, according to the Associated Press, which noted that the pair “discussed efforts to jumpstart negotiations” with Maduro in Mexico.
It’s unclear whether US sanctions featured in the latest talks with the Venezuelan government, though President Joe Biden recently said he would be willing to “calibrate” the penalties depending on the outcome of negotiations between Maduro and his opponents.
The renewed diplomacy with the Latin American nation coincided with Russia’s attack on Ukraine in late February, which prompted a flurry of sanctions from Washington and its allies, some aiming to impose full embargoes on Russian energy. Though officials have said little about whether the US intends to turn to Venezuelan oil as an alternative, the Biden administration has quietly lifted some penalties on Caracas, allowing two European firms to resume oil shipments earlier this month.