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US plans for post-Maduro future with team to send to Venezuela

Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)

YURI CORTEZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/TNS

By NICK WADHAMS | Bloomberg News | Published: July 19, 2019

ASPEN, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. State Department is setting up a 13-person Venezuela unit that will be based in Colombia for now and deploy to Caracas once security allows, as the Trump administration continues to exert pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

The Venezuela Affairs Unit, based at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, will allow the department to “engage the broadest and most meaningful group of Venezuelan actors” and “participate in the greatest number of events and meetings to affect change,” according to a letter sent by the State Department to Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The unit’s personnel, who will deploy later this month, would be among the first to go to Caracas once the security situation allows, according to the July 11 letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. The U.S. pulled out all its embassy staff from Caracas in March.

President Donald Trump has been trying to coalesce support around National Assembly leader Juan Guaido since he declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in late January. More than 50 countries support Guaido and the U.S. regularly announces new sanctions against Maduro and his associates, but so far Trump has been unable to get Maduro to leave or persuade the country’s military to abandon him.

In a separate congressional notification also sent July 11, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it was diverting $41 million intended for Guatemala and Honduras to address the “rapidly evolving crisis in Venezuela.”

The notification, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, said the money was needed to support the “democratically elected National Assembly and interim government.” The Trump administration has also slashed aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as it demands they do more to stem the flow of migrants toward the U.S.

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