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Venezuela's Maduro confirms secret high-level talks with US officials

Key Points
  • It comes less than three days after both Axios and the Associated Press reported that the U.S. had opened secret communications with top members of Venezuela's socialist administration.
  • The South American nation is currently in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory, with more than 4 million people having fled since 2015 amid an economic meltdown.
  • Maduro is using "the same tactic that he has used with the opposition, opening backchannels in an effort to gain time," Diego Moya-Ocampos, principal political analyst for Latin America at IHS Markit, told CNBC via telephone on Wednesday.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a pro-government rally against US sanctions in Caracas on August 10, 2019.
FEDERICO PARRA | AFP | Getty Images

The leaders of the U.S. and Venezuela have confirmed high-ranking officials from their respective governments have been engaged in talks "for months."

It comes less than three days after both Axios and the Associated Press reported that the U.S. had opened secret communications with top members of Venezuela's socialist administration.

Speaking at the White House during a meeting with his Romanian counterpart on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said: "We are talking to various representatives of Venezuela … I don't want to say who but we are talking at a very high level."

Shortly thereafter, Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro said during a televised address: "I can confirm that for months that we have had contact."

Maduro said the aim of discussions was to "normalize and resolve this conflict" between the two countries. However, like Trump, Maduro did not wish to disclose which officials had been engaged in the talks, citing: "various contacts through various channels."

"Just as I have sought dialogue in Venezuela, I have sought a way for President Donald Trump to really listen to Venezuela," he added.

The South American nation is currently in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory, with more than 4 million people having fled since 2015 amid an economic meltdown.

'An effort to gain time'

In late January, Maduro broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. after the White House recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's rightful interim president.

Officials from the U.S. and Venezuela had not previously confirmed contact before Tuesday.

Washington has imposed sanctions on a number of high-level officials and Venezuelan state entities to ramp up the pressure on Maduro — and ultimately try to oust him as leader of the OPEC country.

More recently, Maduro and a delegation representing Guaido have been meeting in Barbados to try to resolve a political stalemate.

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Venezuela's Juan Guaidó is going up against Maduro's regime

Maduro is using "the same tactic that he has used with the opposition, opening backchannels in an effort to gain time," Diego Moya-Ocampos, principal political analyst for Latin America at IHS Markit, told CNBC via telephone on Wednesday.

He is trying to show that his administration is "engaging with different international actors in an effort to exhaust them," so that the Venezuelan topic loses momentum and regime change is no longer on the agenda, Moya-Ocampos said.

What is going on in Venezuela?

A protracted political stand-off has thrust the oil-rich, but cash-poor, country into uncharted territory — whereby it now has an internationally-recognized government, with no control over state functions, running parallel to Maduro's regime.

Guaido assumed a rival interim presidency in January, citing Venezuela's constitution, and denounced Maduro's government as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely criticized as rigged.

However, Maduro has refused to cede power. And, crucially, he still has the broad support of the military.

The minimum wage for the average citizen in Venezuela, which is estimated to be roughly $7 a month, would not be enough to cover even 5% of the basic food basket for a family of five people, the UN said in a report last month.