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Maduro praises US rejection of sanctions

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
President changes tone toward Obama with positive remark, after months of non-stop accusations

CARACAS — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said passage of legislation to impose sanctions on officials could cause his country to shut down its diplomatic missions in the United States, but he praised the Obama administration’s opposition to the bill and said it has led him to name a new top diplomat in Washington.

Maduro said Thursday that the measure, which has cleared the US House of Representatives but faces a challenge in the Senate, could “lead to the point of not having an embassy or consulates in the United States.”

“That’s an extreme point that I want to avoid,” he added during a televised event. “I want the best relations with the government of the United States, based on respect and permanent communications.”

Maduro spoke in response to comments by US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who once again urged the US Senate to vote against the measure. The bill calls for freezing any US assets and denying visas to Venezuelan officials accused of violating human rights during a wave of protests that started in February.

Maduro said that he had read the remarks “with great attention” and said the “leap toward good sense” had led him to name a new top diplomat in Washington.

Even lukewarm praise from Venezuela’s government is remarkable following an avalanche of denunciations. Maduro and his backers, following the path of former president Hugo Chávez, have repeatedly accused Washington of trying to topple him and have blamed the US for stirring up the protests in which at least 42 people have died.

Alleged plot

Just this week, pro-Maduro Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodríguez accused hardline opposition leader María Corina Machado of leading plots to topple President Nicolás Maduro in league with US officials, including Washington’s envoy to Caracas Kevin Whitaker. Speaking at an event that also included first lady Cilia Flores and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, Rodríguez asked the US government to clarify if it knew of Whitaker’s alleged role or if he was acting on his own.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the allegation baseless.

The allegations against Machado — who was stripped of her congressional seat in late March — are the latest in a torrent from the government, which says three months of protests this year were a veneer for a US-backed conspiracy to unseat the successor to late Socialist leader Hugo Chávez.

Machado vehemently denied the accusations Wednesday and filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office charging the evidence had been fabricated and was an incitement to hatred. She also said that state media should give her the chance to defend herself live, after the government’s top officials broke news of the alleged coup on national broadcast yesterday.

Meanwhile, Maduro said his new top diplomat in Washington would be former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil Maximilien Sánchez Arvelaiz. In February, Maduro publicly named Sánchez Arvelaiz to fill the vacant ambassadorship in Washington, but US officials have not acted on the proposal.

Venezuela has repeatedly expelled US diplomats, accusing them of meddling in Venezuelan affairs. That has prompted retaliatory expulsions by Washington.

Chávez expelled the US ambassador in 2008 and withdrew approval of the US nominee for the post in 2010. The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since then.

Maduro expelled two US military attachés just hours before announcing Chávez’s death in March 2013, quashing hopes of a rapprochement. Then in October, he expelled the US chargé d’affaires and two other diplomats in Caracas, accusing them of conspiring to sabotage the economy. He threw out three more US diplomats in February.

Herald with AP, Reuters


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