CARACAS, Venezuela – The National Assembly of Venezuela has appointed two members of the opposition, including a previously imprisoned activist, as of choice officials on Tuesday, another step in what appears to be a government effort by President Nicolás Maduro to improve relations with the United States.
This is the first time since 2005 Venezuelan The opposition will have two seats on the five-member National Electoral Council, which oversees the elections. Critics said the body was overrun by government allies who functioned as a tool of the socialist administration.
The appointment came after weeks of talks between Maduro government officials and moderate opponents, some of whom have aligned with former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
One of the new members of the council is former MP Enrique Marquez, who was vice-president of the National Assembly when it was controlled by the opposition in 2016-2020. Another is longtime strategist Roberto Picon, who was jailed for six months in 2017 for organizing symbolic, parallel votes when the opposition boycotted Maduro’s referendum on naming a constitutional assembly with a rubber stamp that bypassed the National Assembly.
Maduro’s allies overwhelmingly regained control of the National Assembly in last year’s elections, which were boycotted by the opposition, which considered the vote unfair. The United States, the European Union and other countries in the region have also called the election process fake.
Among the three government-linked representatives is Tania D’Amelio, who was sanctioned in 2017 by the U.S. Treasury Department. In February, the EU listed her among 19 officials sanctioned for their relationship with the Maduro government, accusing her of “contributing to undermining the rule of law in Venezuela in her duties by running the 2018 presidential election and changing the election norm for the December parliamentary elections.” “
The appointment of the new board was closely followed as a sign of Maduro’s readiness to reconnect with his opponents – a first step needed by US President Joe Biden to consider easing the derogatory oil sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
Hours before the appointment was announced, the head of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said Maduro’s recent actions had created a “window of opportunity” for engagement with the U.S. government. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, said decisions like opening Venezuela for food aid and releasing six imprisoned U.S. oil executives under house arrest signal that Maduro is “perhaps interested and willing to open negotiations” with the Biden administration.
Speaking at the annual U.S. conference in Washington, Meeks said some U.S. sanctions should be lifted, saying Venezuela has made it difficult to develop, sell or transport oil – crucial to its economy.
But in pre-recorded remarks to the same group, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken took a sharper line, vowing to continue working with allies to put pressure on the Venezuelan government so “the country can return peacefully to democracy.”
Blinken said U.S. efforts were also aimed at “alleviating the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”
“In Venezuela, the brutal Maduro regime has systematically suppressed the rights of its citizens,” he said. “Corruption and mismanagement have fueled a humanitarian crisis, leaving millions without enough food or access to life-saving medical care, displacing millions more.”
In the wake of the campaign, Biden called President Donald Trump’s policy of advocating regime change in Venezuela a “terrible failure” that only served to strengthen Maduro.
Senior officials from several federal agencies weighed U.S. options, including whether to ease oil sanctions and support an attempt at dialogue between Maduro and his opponents, according to two people familiar with the plans. People insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential diplomatic issues.
The United States and about 60 other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaid as the legitimate president of Venezuela, claiming that the re-election of Maduro in 2018 was a fraud. As acting president of the previous National Assembly, Guaidó was proclaimed interim president in 2019.
“Only an agreement, with adequate international support, in favor of coming out of this tragedy and free and fair elections to address humanitarian necessity and justice, is the real solution and they will be accompanied by parliament or a democratic alternative,” Guaidó tweeted after the appointment.
Opposition demands for her participation in the mayoral and provincial elections later this year include updating Venezuela’s voter list, lifting the ban on some of the most prominent opposition candidates and restoring control of the three main parties to their original founders.
The Organization of American States criticized the appointments, saying that the “illegitimacy of the origin” of the current National Assembly “makes its actions and decisions null and void.” The regional group also criticized the Maduro government for taking actions “contrary to the democratic rule of law and the independence of the state’s political powers”.
Associated Press writer Regina Garcia Cano reported on the story from Mexico City, AP writer Jorge Rued of Caracas, and AP writer Joshua Goodman of Miami.