1238 GMT March 23, 2019
While harshly criticizing President Donald Trump’s confrontational stance toward his socialist government, Maduro said on Thursday that he holds out hope of meeting the US president soon to resolve a crisis triggered by America’s recognition of his opponent, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela’s rightful leader, AP reported.
Maduro said that during two meetings in New York, his foreign minister invited the Washington-based special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, to visit “privately, publicly or secretly.”
“If he wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how and I’ll be there,” Maduro said without providing more details. He said both New York meetings lasted several hours.
US officials have not denied Maduro’s claim of talks.
Maduro said US sanctions on the oil industry are to blame for mounting hardships.
At turns conciliatory and combative, he said all Venezuela needs to rebound is for Trump to remove his “infected hand” from the country that sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves.
“The infected hand of Donald Trump is hurting Venezuela,” Maduro said.
Economists say shortages and hyperinflation in the country topped one million percent.
A senior administration official in Washington who was not authorized to speak publicly said US officials were willing to meet with “former Venezuela officials, including Maduro himself, to discuss their exit plans.”
Venezuela is plunging deeper into political chaos triggered by the US demand that Maduro step down a month into a second presidential term that the US and its allies in Latin America consider illegitimate. Head of Congress, Guaido, burst onto the political stage by declaring himself interim president on Jan. 23, saying he had a constitutional right to assume presidential powers from the “tyrant” Maduro.
The escalating crisis is taking place against a backdrop of economic and social turmoil that has led to severe shortages of food and medicine that have forced millions to flee the once-prosperous OPEC nation.
Abrams’ appointment as special envoy last month signaled the Trump administration’s determination to take a tougher line on Venezuela.
Two senior Venezuelan officials who were not authorized to discuss the meetings publicly said the two encounters between Abrams and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza came at the request of the US.
The US sanctions effectively ban all oil purchases by the US, which had been Venezuela’s biggest oil buyer until now. Maduro said he will make up for the sudden drop in revenue by targeting markets in Asia, especially India, where the head of state-run oil giant PDVSA was negotiating new oil sales.
“We’ve been building a path to Asia for many years,” he said. “It’s a successful route, every year they are buying larger volumes and amounts of oil.”
Maduro also cited the continued support of China and, especially Russia, which has been a major supplier of loans, weapons and oil investments over the years. He said that the antagonistic views taken by Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin runs the risk of converting the current crisis into a high-risk geopolitical fight between the US and Russia that recalls some of the most-dangerous brinkmanship of the Cold War.
Amid the mounting pressure at home and abroad, Maduro said he won’t give up power as a way to defuse the standoff.
He also reiterated a refusal to allow humanitarian aid, calling boxes of US-donated food and pediatric supplies sitting in a warehouse on the border in Colombia mere “crumbs” after the US administration froze billions of dollars in the nation’s oil revenue and overseas assets.
“They hang us, steal our money, and then say, ‘here, grab these crumbs’ and make a global show out of it,” said Maduro.
His comments came hours after British billionaire Richard Branson announced in a video that he’ll be hosting a concert in the Colombian border town of Cucuta in hopes of raising $100 million to buy humanitarian supplies for Venezuelans.
“With dignity we say, ‘No to the global show,’” said Maduro. “Whoever wants to help Venezuela is welcome, but we have enough capacity to pay for everything that we need.”
Opponents say the 56-year-old former bus driver has lost touch with his working-class roots, accusing him of ordering mass arrests and starving Venezuelans while he and government insiders — including the top military brass — line their pockets through corruption.
But Maduro shrugged off the label of “dictator,” attributing it to an ideologically driven media campaign by the West to undermine the socialist revolution started by Chavez.
“I’m not afraid,” he said, adding that even last year’s attack on him with explosives-laden drones during a military ceremony didn’t shake his resolve. “I’m only worried about the destiny of the fatherland and of our people, our boys and girls… This is what gives me energy.”