US warns off Venezuela's supporters as Lima meeting opens
Washington warned third parties on Tuesday to avoid doing business with the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro, as delegates from some 60 countries met in Lima to discuss ways of ending the crisis in South American nation.
The warning came one day after President Donald Trump ordered a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the United States and barred transactions with its authorities.
"We are sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution," said Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking in Lima.
"There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime."
The Trump administration is determined to force Maduro from power and support opposition leader Juan Guaido's plans to form a transitional government and set up new elections.
The sanctions drew an angry response from Caracas, which denounced the US move as "another serious aggression by the Trump administration through arbitrary economic terrorism against the Venezuelan people."
Crisis-wracked Venezuela has been mired in a political impasse since January when Guaido, speaker of the Natinal Assembly, proclaimed himself acting president, quickly receiving the support of more than 50 countries.
Tuesday's meeting was called by the Lima Group, which includes a dozen Latin American countries and Canada, most of which support Guaido.
- 'Committed to failure' -
The Lima meeting comes as representatives of Maduro and Guaido are involved in "continuous" negotiations mediated by Norway.
The first round of talks were in Oslo in May, and three further rounds have taken place in Barbados.
Caracas claims the US sanctions show that Washington and its allies are "committed to the failure of the political dialogue" because "they fear the results and benefits."
Bolton, who is in the US delegation alongside Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said Maduro was "not serious" about talks.
He said Trump's move "authorizes the US government to identify, target and impose sanctions on any persons who continue to provide support" Maduro's "illegitimate regime."
He said it would "deny Maduro access to the global financial system and to further isolate him internationally."
Venezuela's opposition considers Maduro a usurper over his re-election last year in a poll widely viewed as rigged.
They want him to stand down so new elections can be held -- but Maduro, with support from the country's powerful military, refuses to go.
Maduro says the talks must lead to "democratic coexistence" and an end to what he describes as an attempted US-orchestrated "coup."
But on Tuesday the White House was emphatic: the "dictatorship must end for Venezuela to have a stable, democratic, and prosperous future."
The United States would "use every appropriate tool to end Maduro's hold on Venezuela," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
- US warns Russia, China -
Oil-rich but cash-poor Venezuela has been in a deep recession for five years. Food and medicine shortages are routine, and public services are progressively failing.
Around a quarter of Venezuela's 30 million people are in need of aid, according to the United Nations, while close to 3.3 million have left the country since the start of 2016.
The International Monetary Fund says inflation will hit a staggering one million percent this year while the economy will shrink by 35 percent.
The Lima Group invited around 100 countries to the meeting but many of those -- including Venezuela's allies China, Russia, Cuba and Turkey -- did not attend.
Bolton urged Russia not to "double down on a bad bet," and told China that "the quickest route to getting repaid" for its loans to Venezuela was by supporting "a new legitimate government."
Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Japan are among those attending the meeting, as well as representatives for the European Union and Inter-American Development Bank.
© 2019 AFP