A top U.S. diplomat returned to Caracas this week to continue efforts to repair the U.S.-Venezuela relationship, which has frayed in the aftermath of a sanctions order U.S. President Barack Obama placed on seven Venezuelan officials earlier this year.
Tom Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs at the U.S. State Department, arrived in Caracas Sunday at the invitation of the government of President Nicolás Maduro to resume bilateral discussions that started last month, news agency Agence France-Presse reported. Shannon arrived on Sunday and is scheduled to leave Tuesday, according to AFP.
The talks began in early April, a month after Obama froze U.S. assets and issued travel bans on seven high-ranking Venezuelan officials accused of violating human rights in the state crackdown on mass protests in early 2014. The U.S. sanctions order included language that described Venezuela as a threat to U.S. national security, which U.S. officials said was standard language for sanctions orders.
The Maduro government responded by blacklisting a handful of current and former U.S. officials from traveling to Venezuela, collecting signatures to protest the sanctions order and demanding that the U.S. embassy in Caracas downsize its staff of more than 200 down to around 17 to match the size of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington. Staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela has not changed since Maduro made his declaration in March.
Since Shannon made his initial visit to Caracas in April, the Maduro government has quieted down its rhetoric against the United States, although it briefly had a diplomatic flare-up with the government of Spain over the status of several Venezuelan political prisoners. But the U.S. government has also been making an effort to smooth things over with Venezuela, with which it still enjoys strong economic ties even though Caracas has been suffering from a loss in foreign reserves and a serious crisis in confidence for Maduro’s presidency. During a visit to Mexico last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed that Washington would try to mend its ties with Caracas. “The United States remains open to further addressing our differences and attempting to find areas of common ground,” he said.