By Andreína Chávez Alava
Guayaquil, Ecuador, (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) President Jorge Rodríguez reiterated that the dialogue process in Mexico will restart once government envoy Alex Saab is released by Washington and the US-backed opposition returns seized foreign assets.
“Enough hypocrisy. If you want dialogue, release Alex Saab. If you want dialogue, return our assets abroad and our gold [withheld by the Bank of England] which you stole,” Rodríguez stated on Wednesday during a UN session to inaugurate the 2022 legislative period.
The AN president added that the opposition led by self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó must recognize “the crimes committed against Venezuela.” Rodríguez recalled the seizure of Colombia-based petrochemical Monómeros and US-based oil subsidiary CITGO. Both companies were handed to Guaidó by Bogotá and Washington in early 2019 and are currently on the brink of being taken over by creditors.
Rodríguez went on to denounce that Guaidó and his allies “stole US $382 million between 2020 and 2021″ from Venezuelan frozen assets abroad. He detailed that $8 million alone were used to pay salaries of the defunct 2015 National Assembly. According to the US State Department, the opposition leader has also received over $1.9 billion for “humanitarian aid” since 2017, with another $1.3 billion coming from the US, Colombia, and Spain.
With a strong message against “impunity,” the parliament’s president requested accelerated investigations on Guaidó’s “rotten pot” of criminal activities.
The former vice president likewise linked the government-opposition dialogue’s future with Alex Saab’s release. “Do not propose dialogue to later attack it as the United States Department of Justice did by kidnapping Saab, a Venezuelan diplomat and member of our delegation in Mexico,” reaffirmed Rodríguez, who led the government representatives in the talks.
Norway-brokered negotiations in Mexico City between the Maduro administration and the US-backed opposition came to a halt last year following Colombo-Venezuelan businessman Alex Saab’s extradition to the United States. The talks were due to enter their fourth round on October 17, a day after the extradition to Florida happened.
Saab was detained in July 2020 on a stop-off in Cape Verde reportedly en route to the Middle East to close food and fuel import deals on behalf of Caracas. According to his lawyers, his arrest and subsequent extradition have been mired with irregularities, including the continued disregard of his diplomatic status in court proceedings.
The Venezuelan envoy faces a lone count of conspiracy to launder money which could carry a 20-year jail term if found guilty. Previously, judge Robert Scola of the Southern District of Florida dismissed seven money-laundering charges at the request of the prosecution. This was allegedly part of a deal struck with Cape Verde to secure the extradition.
Saab’s latest hearing, scheduled for January 7, 2022, was postponed to February 16 on the basis of a Covid-19 cases surge in Florida.
For his part, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro restated that Washington sabotaged the dialogue process by extraditing Saab just as “the economy and criminal US sanctions” were being discussed. “We will wait to see what happens in the upcoming months [with Saab’s case],” he said in an interview with Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet.
In turn, opposition frontman Juan Guaidó has called to resume the talks repeating his slogan of “free and fair elections” ahead of the 2024 presidential race. The US-backed politician currently holds no elected office after the former parliament’s term expired in January 2021 and a newly elected body assumed the next five-year mandate.
However, the defunct Guaidó-led parliament has continued operating to access funds and retain control of Venezuelan foreign assets. On Monday, the former legislators extended their term and Guaidó’s “interim presidency” until January 2023. The US Department of State was quick to endorse the move.
Guaidó’s words on dialogue echoed the State Department’s communique. “We call on Nicolás Maduro to reengage in the negotiations in Mexico, and to do so in good faith for the benefit of the Venezuelan people,” reads the document.
Before Saab’s extradition halted the Mexico talks, the first rounds of negotiations had led to the return of the hardline oppostion to the electoral path in November’s mega-elections. Other advances, currently uncompleted, included a $5.1 billion injection by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a joint pledge to defend Venezuela’s Essequibo Strip.
Two previous dialogue efforts were likewise derailed before reaching any agreements. In 2017-2018, the opposition abandoned the table reportedly after then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned lead opposition negotiator Julio Borges. Then in 2019, the US imposed wide-reaching sanctions when new talks were underway.