Venezuela Political Chaos Deepens With Third Claim to Presidency

Alex Vasquez and Ben Bartenstein

(Bloomberg) -- If Venezuelan politics weren’t convoluted enough, they just got a bit more complicated this week.

The opposition-aligned Progressive Advance party hired Ari Ben-Menashe, a Montreal-based lobbyist, to “pursue Henri Falcon’s election as President of Venezuela,” according to a contract filed with the U.S. Justice Department.

Days after the public filing, Falcon and his advisers are walking back the purpose of the $200,000 contract. An amended document, obtained by Bloomberg News, said their main aim is “to pursue a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s economic, humanitarian and political crisis.” Progressive Advance said in a press release that it was “absurd” to consider a presidential candidacy for Falcon.

The former Lara state governor didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Falcon lost to President Nicolas Maduro in a widely criticized election last May. That led the U.S. and more than 50 governments to recognize National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the nation’s rightful leader this January, when Maduro’s second-term began.

The lobbying effort underscores an ongoing rift within Venezuela’s opposition, even as roughly four-fifths of Venezuelans share a negative view of Maduro’s government. Last year, the nation’s main opposition bloc boycotted what it called a sham vote pitting Maduro against Falcon and televangelist Javier Bertucci.

In the contract, Progressive Advance said it’s working with Ben-Menashe’s firm to establish contact with Washington and Moscow to seek a solution to the country’s crisis. The party has proposed an oil-for-food program in which Venezuela could export oil to the U.S. and the profits would be used exclusively to buy food for the nation. At the moment, hyperinflation makes it almost impossible for most Venezuelans to buy the food they need.

Maduro’s government and opposition officials representing Guaido started negotiations in May, sponsored by Norway, seeking to find a solution to Venezuela’s political and economic crisis. The most recent talks ended Wednesday in Barbados with no deal. Guaido’s representatives pushed for early presidential elections, according to two lawmakers with direct knowledge of the matter.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Vasquez in Caracas Office at avasquez45@bloomberg.net;Ben Bartenstein in New York at bbartenstei3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Julia Leite at jleite3@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson

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