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Bob Corker Meets with Venezuelan Dictator on Friday, American Prisoner Released on Saturday

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UPDATE, Saturday 10:45 a.m.

President Trump tweeted early Saturday morning that American Josh Holt has been released from a Venezuelan prison:

Senator Marco Rubio (R-TN) tweeted about two hours ago that Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) has secured the release of Utah resident Josh Holt from a Venezuelan prison. Notably, Rubio made no mention of Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) meeting with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Friday.

 

In his statement announcing the release, however, Hatch thanked Corker for his “pivotal” efforts:

Saturday, 7:20 a.m.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) met with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Friday, one week after Maduro was declared the victor in a sham re-election.

Under the socialist regime of Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, the once-thriving Latin American country has become an economic basket case, crippled by high inflation, unemployment, a starving population, and widespread deprivation of civil liberties.

Neither the State Department nor the White House commented on Corker’s surprise visit, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is among the more knowledgeable member of the U.S. Senate on U.S.-Venezuelan relations,  issued a statement in which he distanced himself from the actions of Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Not all members of Congress welcomed Corker’s visit to the South American country, especially in the wake of a presidential race the United States, several Latin American countries and some European nations have deemed illegitimate,” Newsweek reported:

Corker’s fellow Republican Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, wrote via Twitter that “any U.S. Senator can meet with whoever they want. But no matter how many senators dictator Nicolas Maduro gets to meet with him, U.S. sanctions will go away when Maduro leaves and democracy returns.”

Corker may have met with Maduro in attempt to seek the release of Joshua Holt, an American who has been in a Venezuelan prison since 2016.

The Venezuelan government promoted the meeting between Corker and Maduro as validation of last week’s election, which the United States government has refused to recognize as legitimate.

“It was a very good meeting, it is good news for the Venezuelan people,” Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriquez said, Reuters reported.

The Reuters report continued:

State television images showed Maduro and Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, shaking hands in the Miraflores presidential palace, though neither offered statements to the media.

U.S. lawmakers have previously held discussions with Venezuelan officials on the release of Josh Holt, a U.S. citizen and Mormon missionary from Utah imprisoned in the South American country since 2016 on weapons charges. U.S. officials say Venezuela is using Holt as a bargaining chip in sanctions talks

Venezuela’s economy is experiencing a fifth year of contraction, with hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines prompting mass emigration. The United States has sanctioned individuals linked to Maduro in recent months, accusing them of corruption.

Maduro frequently accuses Washington of conspiring to overthrow his government and seize control of the OPEC member’s oil reserves, the largest in the world, and has said the United States’ “economic war” is to blame for the country’s woes.

“52,000 Venezuelans . . . have spilled into Brazil in the last year, all looking for the same thing — work and a chance at a new life,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday:

The exodus has strained the social safety nets of Venezuela’s neighbors, particularly in Boa Vista, where the 40,000 who have settled in shelters and public spaces now account for 10% of the city’s population. The state of Roraima has become so overwhelmed that in mid-April, Gov. Suely Campos filed suit in Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court demanding the federal government temporarily close the border. An average of 800 Venezuelans cross into Brazil every day. Others flood into Colombia. The migration never seems to slow.

 

“Fewer than half of Venezuela’s registered voters participated in the South American country’s May 20 election, punishing a government they don’t support by simply not voting,” The Conversation reported:

Certainly Venezuela’s was not a competitive election. Many believe Maduro’s re-election constitutes a fraud against democratic principles. Nearly 50 countries worldwide – including the United States and almost every Latin American nation – have declared Venezuela’s election results illegitimate.

In response, President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions limiting how U.S. companies and citizens can do business with Venezuela, including the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela.

Only Russia, China, Cuba and 13 other nations have recognized the election results.

A frequent critic of President Trump, Corker decided not to seek re-election to a third term in the U.S. Senate from Tennessee in September as his approval ratings in his home state plummeted.

 

 

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