Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry briefly met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to discuss the current crisis in Venezuela. Reuters:
The two sat down together after a ceremony in the Colombian city of Cartagena to mark the signing of a peace agreement to end that country’s civil war.
“(Kerry) spoke of our concern about the economic and political challenges that have affected millions of Venezuelans, and he urged President Maduro to work constructively with opposition leaders to address these challenges,” said State Department Spokesman John Kirby.
With the political and economic situation in Venezuela worsening, it’s not a bad thing that our top diplomat is talking to Maduro. It’s in the United States’ interest to keep up with things in Venezuela and to have contacts for if and when things get even more dire.
But what appears to be prudent diplomacy was seized upon by the embattled Maduro. He couldn’t stop crowing about it on his weekly radio program:
“Very soon, Undersecretary Thomas Shannon will be in Venezuela with other members of that delegation,” Maduro said. “And I hope that very soon, John Kerry will also come to Venezuela. I said, ‘When will you come to Venezuela to visit us?’. And he said, ‘If things are progressing well, I’ll go to Venezuela’. I said, ‘You will be welcome in Venezuela, John Kerry’. And so we should all know that progress is possible.”
Spuriously claiming “victory” like this is unlikely help Maduro at home—photo-ops won’t stock supermarket shelves, for one, and Maduro has thus far refused to accept any foreign food aid, something the opposition welcomes.
Nevertheless, Maduro’s latest outburst clearly points to a challenge for U.S. diplomats: how to best balance being helpful and engaged in this slow-motion catastrophe, while at the same time denying Maduro’s wretched regime any extra oxygen. The State Department is aware of the difficulty, but has clearly decided that standing back and watching the country implode is not an option.