The Covid-19 pandemic in Venezuela has stranded 800 U.S. citizens — who have become political pawns between the Nicolas Maduro regime and the American government.
James Story, chargé d’affaires of the U.S .State Department for Venezuela, who dispatches from Bogotá, Colombia, denounced the Venezuelan regime for refusing to allow American citizens to return to the United States.
After Story sent a message to Jorge Arreaza, minister of foreign affairs of the Venezuelan regime, to resolve the impasse, Maduro replied by proposing the use of Conviasa, his state airline, which is sanctioned by Washington, to transfer the Americans back home.
“A humanitarian cause should not be worth illegal, unilateral sanctions,” said Maduro.
But the Venezuelan strongman’s proposal has caused mistrust on the part of former U.S. government officials, exile leaders and officials linked to Juan Guaido, who declared himself acting president backed by the United States and 60 countries.
“It is odd that the situation of these American citizens had not been revealed before,” said Otto Reich, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, and former assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere at the State Department.
“What Maduro is doing is typical of an outlaw, because he knows the Venezuelan state airline is sanctioned by the United States, and he wants to take advantage of a difficult situation,” Reich added.
The airline was sanctioned in February. “The illegitimate Maduro regime relies on the Venezuelan state-owned airline CONVIASA to shuttle corrupt regime officials around the world to fuel support for its anti-democratic efforts,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, when the sanctions were imposed.
Reich added the tactic used by the Venezuelan regime has previously been used by dictatorships, such as in Cuba.
“Maduro’s offer to Trump to repatriate people of American nationality has a logistical complication, due to the sanctions: Conviasa cannot land in the United States. Maduro seeks this to present it as a political victory and a victory against the “blockade,” but I doubt that Washington will grant it, “said Manuel Avendaño, who has been director of the International Office of Guaido.
“It is one more example for the United States and the world to realize the catastrophe that exists in Venezuela in every sense, in addition to what we repeatedly denounce about violated human rights,” said Maria Teresa Van Der Ree, president of the organization Civil Resistance of Venezuelans Abroad (Recivex), which, since 2001, has opposed the regimes of the late Hugo Chávez and Maduro.
The United States suspended its foreign service operations in Venezuela on March 11, 2019, and has tightened oil and financial sanctions against the dictatorship in Caracas.
Story revealed the United States has made multiple offers since March, both to bring Americans home and to deal with Venezuelans trapped in the United States amid the pandemic. The State Department offered to organize direct, private flights from Caracas to the United States, or through third-party countries, such as Spain and Mexico. The Maduro government has rejected both suggestions.
Story issued a warning in March saying citizens with U.S. passports and permanent residents should prepare to stay indefinitely in Venezuela. The diplomat reported that some American citizens who tried to fly to Mexico were told they were on a government list that prohibited them from leaving the country.
Since last May, Washington suspended all its commercial and cargo flights with Venezuela “for security reasons,” so travelers have to make stops in other countries.
(Edited by Rafael Prieto and Fern Siegel)