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Biden excludes Venezuela’s pro-democracy leader from summit

LOS ANGELES – Just over two years ago, Juan Guaidó was showered with bipartisan applause when President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address hailed the Venezuelan opposition leader as a “very courageous man” who carries on his shoulders the democratic hopes of a whole nation.

But in a sign of how far his political destiny has sunk and how quickly US geopolitical calculations can shift, the 38-year-old wasn’t even invited to this week’s Summit of the Americas – despite the Biden government and Strongly recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.

Meanwhile, Nicolás Maduro, the man Guaidó was trying to oust, does something of a lap of honor. On a rare foreign trip to Turkey this week, Maduro, who is the target of US sanctions and a federal narcotics charge, denounced the decision to bar him and left-wing allies from Cuba and Nicaragua from the gathering as a “stab” in back to regional cooperation.

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“This is a clear victory for Maduro,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of Americas, from Los Angeles, where he attended the summit. “He has seen allies at the summit championing his cause while preventing his main rival, whom Washington recognizes as president, from attending.”

In a possible attempt at damage control, Biden spoke to Guaidó on Wednesday. It was the first time the two leaders spoke, and during the roughly 17-minute call, Biden reiterated his support for Guaidó, whose claim to the presidency stems from his role as leader of the National Assembly, elected in 2015.

“President Biden expressed his support for Venezuela-led negotiations as the best path toward a peaceful restoration of democratic institutions, free and fair elections, and respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Venezuelans,” the White House said in a call. “They discussed the role that the United States and other international partners can play in supporting a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s crisis. President Biden reiterated that the United States stands ready to calibrate sanctions policy according to the outcome of negotiations that will empower the Venezuelan people to determine their country’s future.”

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But after weeks of silence from the White House on whether or not Guaidó would be invited, Venezuela’s pro-democracy movement’s call offered little comfort.

“We don’t want to be seen as party-goers who go where we’re not welcome,” a Guaidó envoy said on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic business.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan downplayed suggestions that the US was snubbing a staunch ally.

Speaking aboard Air Force One en route to Los Angeles, Sullivan insisted that the decision not to invite anyone from the Guaidó camp and instead to include civil society activists from Venezuela was a tactical decision to end negotiations between Maduro and to encourage his opponents to “ultimately see a better future for the Venezuelan people.”

Guaido’s possible presence at the summit also appears to have irritated many of the Venezuelan government’s allies, including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who decided to skip the summit over the exclusion of Maduro and the leaders of Cuba and Nicaragua.

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A Mexican official confirmed that his administration asked the US to exclude Guaidó from the guest list as part of its back-and-forth with the Biden administration, an attempt that ultimately failed to persuade López Obrador to attend the summit. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss diplomatic business, said other countries have done the same.

The Mexican leader’s boycott was joined by left-wing leaders from Bolivia, Grenada, Honduras, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as the President of Uruguay, who was exposed to COVID, also stayed home in protest, although they did not express solidarity with Maduro.

But it’s not just foreign pressure that has deterred Biden from inviting Guaidó.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered a spike in energy prices, the US has begun to reassess its policy towards Venezuela, a country that has the world’s largest oil reserves but whose decades-long decline in oil production has been exacerbated by US sanctions .

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In March, US officials led by Juan Gonzalez, senior director of the National Security Council for the western hemisphere, traveled to Caracas to meet with Maduro. Then as now, Guaidó was kept on the sidelines as US officials failed to meet with him during the multi-day trip. The aim of the talks was to lure Maduro into the possibility of sanctions being lifted in exchange for a return to negotiations with his opponents in Mexico, which has not happened so far.

Meanwhile, Guaidó continues to fight for change, although his street appearances are less frequent and crowds have fallen sharply since his challenge against Maduro in 2019.

On Saturday, his supporters in the western city of Maracaibo, not far from Colombia and a flight away from the United States, were hit with a barrage of flying plastic chairs and punches from Maduro allies.

“The violent got nothing,” Guaidó told a small group of supporters amid calls of “freedom, freedom, freedom” after the violent brawl. “To be clear: we will not take a single step back.”

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— Goodman reported from Miami. AP writer Claudia Torrens of New York and Jorge Rueda of Caracas, Venezuela contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/08/biden-sidelines-venezuelas-pro-democracy-leader-from-summit/ Biden excludes Venezuela’s pro-democracy leader from summit

Sarah Y. Kim

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