Biden will seek talks with the Maduro regime to reverse Trump’s plan

Joe Biden and Nicolas Maduro.

President-elect Joe Biden’s advisers are preparing to negotiate with Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela in an effort to end the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The Biden administration intends to press for free and fair elections, instead offering exemptions from sanctions, said people, who requested anonymity because the new team is being formed. In a deviation from the Trump administration, which insisted that it will only negotiate the terms of Maduro’s surrender, Biden’s advisers do not set this as a precondition and are willing to talk directly.

The president-elect’s team will review existing sanctions to determine where to extend restrictions with the help of international allies and what measures could be taken if Maduro moves toward the democratic goal, people said. Maduro’s foreign supporters, including Russia, China and Iran, are expected to play a role, as will Cuba, which wants to improve relations with the United States.

Read more: Biden plots Cuba to reset Trump’s reprimand

Biden’s advisers called Venezuela’s crisis the biggest diplomatic challenge it will face in the Western Hemisphere. More than 5 million people have fled the South American country in recent years, escaping the relentless economic upheavals of gang violence, power failures, widespread food shortages and the government’s hostility to dissent.

Economic tax

Maduro has shown an interest in improving relationships when Biden takes office, expressing his desire for the new administration to ease the sanctions that have crushed the nation’s oil revenues. The Venezuelan economy is expected to contract by a third in 2020, according to Ecoanalitica in Caracas.

Internally, Biden will fulfill his promise of temporary protected status, which would allow Venezuelans who fled to the United States to remain, people said.

A spokesman for the Biden-Harris transition declined to comment.

One of the most thorny issues for Biden is how he will address opposition leader Juan Guaido’s presidency. The United States and more than 50 countries recognized Guaido as interim leader in early 2019, when he took over the leadership of the National Assembly, claiming a vacancy for president, because Maduro rigged the May 2018 elections.

Despite leading the precipitous deterioration of the oil-rich country since he succeeded the late President Hugo Chavez in 2013 and struggled over the years to force him out, Maduro remains defiantly in power. Earlier this month, his loyalists won parliamentary control after boycotting the opposition. Canada, Colombia, Brazil and the United States were among the first to reject the results.

Opposition agenda

In theory, Guaido will lose his seat as head of Venezuela’s National Assembly on January 5th. Biden takes over in Washington only two weeks later.

Since the end of November, the opposition leader’s team has tried to arrange a call with Biden, without success so far, said three people familiar with the efforts. Guaido and his allies intend to hold a duel meeting, invoking their constitutional mandate to remain in office until free and fair elections. Many are hidden or exiled while facing threats to their personal safety.

Guaido’s office declined to comment on the matter.

The Biden administration intends to turn its attention to the Venezuelan opposition and what appears to be the national consensus, according to people with knowledge of the strategy.