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The Biden administration is seeking ways to increase international pressure on Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro in order to secure a peaceful, democratic transition of power, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told opposition leader Juan Guaidó in a phone call on Tuesday.
Blinken “stressed the importance of a return to democracy in Venezuela through free and fair elections” in their first conversation since Blinken became secretary, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
“Secretary Blinken described our efforts to work with like-minded allies, including the European Union, Lima Group, Organization of American States, and International Contact Group, to increase multilateral pressure and press for a peaceful, democratic transition,” Price added.
The call comes at a time when Maduro appears to be solidifying his grip on Venezuela, despite U.S. sanctions and diplomatic pressure from the European Union and a number of Latin American countries. Meanwhile, the opposition has struggled to regain its momentum, with Guaidó sliding in popularity and unable to draw large crowds as he did in years before.
Though Biden is expected to make some adjustments to the Trump administration’s approach to Venezuela, Price said the State Department continues to recognize the 2015 National Assembly as the last remaining democratic institution in Venezuela, and Guaidó as its interim president.
In a press release issued later Tuesday, Guaidó’s team said Blinken reiterated U.S. commitment to working with allies to put an end to the suffering of the Venezuelan population, including by increasing humanitarian aid, and vowed to work together to establish free and fair elections.
“Venezuela can solve its own problems, but only when its people can establish a legitimate government through free and just elections that employ international standards of transparency, pluralism and auto determination,” Guaidó said, according to the press release.
Guaidó proclaimed himself Venezuela’s legitimate president in January 2019, a position quickly accepted by the United Sates and eventually more than 50 other countries.
His term in Congress, the basis for his claim as Venezuela’s transitional leader, ended in January after the opposition boycotted a legislative election widely considered a sham. He and other lawmakers have continued holding sessions virtually, but some international actors have scaled back their support, referring to him as an important opposition figure rather than interim head of state.
Maduro has begun trying to curb the opposition’s influence inside the country as a new National Assembly made up in more than 95 percent by his followers initiates investigations. The government also recently barred Guaidó and two dozen other lawmakers from holding public office for 15 years.
The international community is now watching the Biden administration closely to see if the new president will maintain Donald Trump’s policy of increasing economic pressure or push for a new round of talks with Maduro that could lead to relaxing the sanctions already in place.
Most proponents of relaxing the sanctions argue that they have so far failed to oust Maduro while increasing the hardships of a population already facing a humanitarian crisis.
Blinken and Guaidó also discussed the “urgent humanitarian needs” created by the Venezuelan crisis, which has forced nearly 5.5 million Venezuelans to flee the country.