US diplomat headed to Caracas amid food shortages in Venezuela

U.S. diplomat Tom Shannon (C) talks with Lee McClenny, Charge d'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, upon his arrival at Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas, Venezuela, June 21, 2016. © Marco Bello
The US and Venezuela have tradionally had an on–off relationship, which has recently been mostly off. However, a senior US diplomat is expected to meet with President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition that is seeking to remove him from power.

Venezuela’s uncertain future may open the country up for talks with the US, which President Maduro has publically blamed for the socialist nation’s economic woes. Senior diplomat Tom Shannon traveled to Venezuela on Tuesday hoping to engineer a rapprochement.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said of Shannon’s visit to the oil-rich country: "The main purpose is to have a series of discussions about the social, economic and political challenges in Venezuela and to try to help foster constructive, meaningful dialogue toward solutions with a variety of groups in the government and outside.

Shannon previously tried to establish improved relations with Venezuela last year. However, the jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez stalled the efforts.

Shannon’s visit to Venezuela comes after weeks of food riots and protests that have led to hundreds of arrests and several deaths. Supporters of the opposition are calling for Maduro’s resignation blaming him for the triple-digit inflation and food shortages. Venezuela's economy was hit hard by the falling oil prices and drought.

Although Shannon has visited the country in the past, his recent trips have yielded hardly any results. However, there are hopes that he can negotiate the release of political prisoners, including members of the opposition party.

Maduro is using Shannon’s visit to slight the opposition, saying: “I think it is very good that we are taking these steps with the US. I only wish the Venezuelan opposition would engage in serious, transparent dialogue in the same way.

Shannon is expected to push for a referendum.