Venezuela, US agree to 'improve relations,' says Caracas

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is seeking reelection to a third, successive term (Wendys OLIVO)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is seeking reelection to a third, successive term (Wendys OLIVO)

Venezuela and the United States have agreed to "improve relations" as they resumed negotiations just months after Washington reimposed crippling sanctions on the South American country, Caracas said Wednesday.

At an initial meeting, the two sides agreed on a "willingness" to work together to "improve relations," President Nicolas Maduro's top negotiator Jorge Rodriguez announced on X.

They also agreed to "maintain communications in a respectful and constructive manner," he said.

Maduro announced on Monday that talks would resume with the United States -- a longtime foe of the leftist Maduro, who has presided over a crumbling economy that has sent millions fleeing Venezuela, many headed north.

The president claimed the proposal for talks had come from Washington and that Caracas had agreed to it after two months of careful consideration.

The US State Department declined to comment.

Last year, the two countries launched secret negotiations in Qatar, ultimately agreeing to a prisoner swap.

The United States suspended some sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry after Maduro's government and the opposition agreed in Barbados last October to hold a free and fair vote in 2024 with international observers present.

But the thaw ended when Maduro's opponents were barred from running against him in the July 28 vote and observers were disinvited. The sanctions were snapped back in place in April.

- 'Increase in threats' -

In early 2019, the United States under then president Donald Trump declared Maduro's re-election to have been illegitimate, with most Western and Latin American countries switching recognition to then-opposition leader Juan Guaido.

But years of sanctions and other pressure failed to dislodge Maduro, who enjoys support from a political patronage system, the military and Cuba, Russia and China.

He will seek a third, successive term in elections this month.

Earlier Wednesday, the UN rights chief warned in Geneva that civic space was shrinking in Venezuela ahead of the vote, with an "increase in threats, harassment and assaults against civil society actors, journalists, unionists and other voices considered critical."

The opposition has denounced the arrests of about 40 political and social activists so far this year.

In April, the rights group Foro Penal warned of a "significant intensification of... persecution" in Venezuela.

A recent count by the NGO Foro Penal said there were 278 "political prisoners" in the country, which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world though production has plummeted after years of mismanagement and sanctions.

The government, for its part, accuses the opposition of conspiring against Maduro.

On Tuesday, two Russian naval ships docked in Venezuela for a stopover that highlighted the strong ties between the two countries.