Saturday 16 December 2017

Venezuela's Maduro in shock 'here is my hand' offer to Donald Trump

Hand of friendship? Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro says he wants as strong a relationship with the US as he does with Russia (AP)
Hand of friendship? Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro says he wants as strong a relationship with the US as he does with Russia (AP)

Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro has said he wants a meeting with US president Donald Trump - the man he ridicules as a crass imperial magnate and blasts for sanctions against officials in his socialist government.

In a lengthy address to the 545 members of a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly, Mr Maduro instructed Venezuela's foreign minister to approach the United States about arranging a telephone conversation or meeting with Mr Trump.

"Mr Donald Trump, here is my hand," the president said, adding that he wanted as strong a relationship with the US as he has with Russia.

The remarks came shortly after Mr Maduro forcefully warned Mr Trump that Venezuela "will never give in".

The Trump administration has called Mr Maduro a "dictator" and issued sanctions against him and more than two dozen other former and current officials, accusing Mr Maduro's government of abusing human rights and undermining the country's democracy amid an escalating political and financial crisis.

On Thursday, Credit Suisse bank banned the trading and use of Venezuelan bonds.

The bank will no longer trade, nor accept as collateral, two specific types of Venezuelan securities as well as any bonds the country issued from June 1 going forward, according to a company spokeswoman.

Any businesses wishing to do business with Venezuela and deal in any assets there will have to go through additional screening.

In the memo, the bank cited "recent developments and the political climate" in the country for the ban.

Venezuela is facing mounting international criticism over a crackdown on opponents and moves to consolidate power, including the selection of the all-powerful assembly controlled by Mr Maduro.

It is in the midst of a severe economic downturn caused by low oil prices and poor government policies.

The country's bonds are one of the few ways the current government is able to raise money to support its collapsing economy.

But as the country's political crisis has worsened, the bonds issued by the government as well as the state-owned oil company PDVSA have become a point of contention and concern for investors who increasingly worry they are supporting an oppressive regime as well as a country that is a great risk of defaulting on its debts.

Goldman Sachs came under political pressure earlier this year for buying a reported 2.8 billion dollars (£2.1bn) in Venezuelan bonds on the open market at a significant discount.

National Assembly president Julio Borges, leader of the country's opposition, has sent more than a dozen letters to leading global banks warning them of the risk to their reputations and bottom line if they throw a lifeline to Mr Maduro.

On Wednesday, a fifth opposition mayor in Venezuela was removed from his post.

A small group of young people set up barricades of strewn metal objects in the eastern Caracas district of El Hatillo on Thursday to protest against the Supreme Court decision to order mayor David Smolansky imprisoned for 15 months for not obeying orders to shut down the protests.

We can't allow "the dictatorship to hunt down, imprison and treat our mayors like criminals", said Andres Paez, a lawyer who joined the protest.

Mr Smolansky issued a video from an undisclosed location in which he called on residents of the El Hatillo to take to the streets to uphold their right to representation against what he called the government's "political firing squad".

"I want to tell you all that I continue being a public servant by vocation and conviction," he said.

"My commitment to restoring freedom in Venezuela remains intact."

His arrest was ordered by the government-stacked Supreme Court less than 48 hours after it levied a similar sentence against Ramon Muchacho, another Caracas-area mayor.

Opposition leaders condemned both rulings, calling them part of an ongoing campaign by the court to illegally remove anti-government mayors from their elected posts.

According to their figures, about a third of the nation's opposition mayors have been removed from office or jailed or are under threat of arrest.

Gerardo Blyde, an opposition mayor of Baruta, a city of more than 350,000 near the capital, equated it to a sort of "Russian roulette".

"This is a continued coup against municipal public authority," he said.

AP

Press Association

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