Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker urged U.S. officials to reignite a dialogue with Venezuelan leaders and diplomats, days after the Tennessee Republican negotiated the release of an American who’d been imprisoned in the country’s capital city for years.
The United States and most other democratic countries consider Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s administration a dictatorship.
He stripped the legislative body there of its parliamentary powers last year. The country has seen a steep drop-off in economic productivity over the last decade as many citizens struggle in poverty — which has exacerbated political tensions.
“In my conversations privately, I could not be more strident in my criticisms of the way the Venezuela government has handled itself. I’ve seen in Venezuela people lined up outside grocery stores just to buy toilet paper,” Corker said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.
But he questioned why U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump, have snipped lines of communication with Venezuela while simultaneously engaging with North Korea President Kim Jong Un over denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
“If we are engaging with Kim Jong Un, who executes his relatives with high-power artillery at close range, then it would seem to me that engaging with Venezuela, while keeping on all the pressure that we have, would also make some sense,” Corker said.
A bipartisan sanctions bill against Venezuela currently sits in Corker’s Foreign Relations Committee. Senators are expected to pass the bill, which would further push the country to the economic periphery as a mechanism to incentivize its government to consider reform.
Still, Corker indicated that he believes the U.S. should be consistent in its policy of engaging with leaders of hostile foreign countries.
“I’m no softy on Venezuela,” Corker said. “I’m not some person who thinks we ought to change our posture as far as punishing them for all the things that have occurred.”
“But at the same time, I know we engage with some of our most difficult adversaries and certainly was more than glad to engage on behalf of getting Americans home,” he said.
Twenty-six-year-old Josh Holt returned home to Salt Lake City on Monday after Corker secured his release from a two-year stint in a Caracas prison. Holt was never given a trial.
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