A top American diplomat said the United States would not prosecute or otherwise seek to punish Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro if he voluntarily left power, despite bringing his country to the verge of economic collapse and humanitarian disaster, The New York Times reported.
Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special envoy for Venezuela, said he had seen no indication that Maduro was willing to step down. But his offer of amnesty was a message to Maduro after both countries’ leaders described high-level talks that Abrams unequivocally said did not happen.
“This is not a persecution,” Abrams said of Maduro on Tuesday evening in an interview. “We’re not after him. We want him to have a dignified exit and go.”
He added: “We don’t want to prosecute you; we don’t want to persecute you. We want you to leave power.”
The Treasury Department last year accused Maduro of profiting from illegal drug trafficking in Venezuela but did not recommend charges.
The softer, if pragmatic, appeal sharply contrasted with the eight months of sanctions, international isolation and threats by the Trump administration of military intervention against Maduro and his loyalists, who are accused of hoarding power and manipulating elections last year.
Opposition leaders in Venezuela have not offered immunity to Maduro, whom they accuse of prospering in a corrupt government that has left many Venezuelans without food, electricity or medical supplies.
In the interview, Abrams sought to clarify widespread confusion over the Trump administration’s efforts to force Maduro from his presidency. Last week, asked about news reports of secret talks between Washington and Caracas, Trump said the White House was in touch with Maduro’s government, “at a very high level.”
Hours later, Maduro confirmed that he had directly authorized his officials to engage in secret meetings with the Trump administration. “Sure, there’s been contact and we’ll continue having contact,” he said in a national broadcast. However, Abrams said that was not true.
“The notion that we are negotiating is just flat-out wrong,” Abrams said. “And the notion that there is a pattern of communication is wrong. There are intermittent messages and I think people would find the very occasional message sent from Washington to be completely predictable: ‘You need to return to democracy. Maduro needs to leave power’.”
According to The New York Times, the comments are likely to soothe Venezuela’s opposition leaders, who have privately said Trump’s statement risked sidelining their own negotiations. A delegation headed by the opposition’s chief political negotiator, Stalin González, traveled to Washington last week to press American officials on the Trump administration’s policy in Venezuela.