But he appeared to indicate he was ready to accede to U.S. demands to resume negotiations with adversaries as the first building block for any relief from U.S. sanctions that have dogged the OPEC nation for years.
“We agreed to work on a program for the future, matters of interest,” Maduro said. “It seemed very important to me to be able, face to face, to discuss issues of maximum interest for Venezuela and the world. And I ratify, as I said to the delegation, all our will to move forward in an agenda of well-being and peace through diplomacy, respect and the greatest hope for a better world.
The talks come just over three years after the United States severed ties with Maduro and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader. They came together after months of low-key talks by intermediaries – US lobbyists, Norwegian diplomats and international oil executives – who have been pushing for US President Joe Biden to reverse the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign so far. unsuccessful to overthrow Maduro which he inherited. of the Trump administration.
But the impetus for a risky outreach to Maduro – who has been sanctioned and is indicted in New York for drug trafficking – took on added urgency after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent US sanctions there. The lows, which promise to reshuffle global alliances and add higher gasoline prices are already fueling inflation to its highest level in four decades.
Last week, powerful Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill began voicing support for a U.S. ban on Russian oil and natural gas imports as the next step in punishing Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion.
Venezuela is Putin’s biggest ally in Latin America and one of the main oil exporters. Its return to US energy markets could mitigate the fallout at the pumps from a possible oil embargo on Russia. But the Caracas discussions were quickly condemned by leading Democratic and Republican senators.
US Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Biden’s efforts to unite the world against Putin ‘should not be undermined by backing’ Maduro, whose government is under investigation from the International Criminal Court for possible crimes against humanity committed against protesters in 2017.
“If the reports are true that the Biden administration is negotiating the purchase of Venezuelan oil, I fear it risks perpetuating a humanitarian crisis that has destabilized Latin America and the Caribbean for an entire generation,” he said. the Democrat in a statement. “…As such, I would strongly oppose any action that would line the pockets of the regime oligarchs with oil profits while Maduro continues to deprive Venezuelans of basic human rights, freedoms and even food. “
Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, one of the architects of the regime change policy, also criticized the talks, tweeting that they represent a “demoralizing betrayal by those who risked everything to oppose Maduro”.
Venezuela has been going through a deep political, social and economic crisis for years, which critics attribute to a decline in oil production due to widespread mismanagement by socialist governments. The government largely blames US economic sanctions.
Millions of people have fallen into poverty, pushing many to migrate. The United Nations has estimated that more than 6 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, more than 10% of the population.
Maduro broke off dialogue with his opponents last fall after one of his key Cape Verde allies was extradited to the United States for money laundering.
The US-backed opposition faction did not immediately comment on Maduro’s remarks, who also called for reformatting the dialogue that had taken place in Mexico under the leadership of Norwegian diplomats.
“We decided at this meeting to reactivate with great force the process of national dialogue with all the political, social, economic, religious and cultural factors of the country,” Maduro said. “…If we ask for dialogue for the world, we must set an example in the country.”
Goodman reported from Miami.