MIAMI (AP) – The aftermath of a failed coup against Hugo Chávez and Representative Gregory Meeks resting at the Kennedy area on Cape Cod with a young, bearded Venezuelan lawmaker named Nicolás Maduro.
Photographs of the 2002 encounter show a man standing shoulder-to-shoulder bonded by their shared love of baseball and a bargain-defying parenting story – Maduro on the streets of Karas. Gus, where the radical left, like himself, was shot and Meeks entered. Public housing project in Harlem, son of a struggling boxer and teacher
The exchange will be more than anecdotes, but for Maduro̵7;s 2013 ascent of Venezuela’s presidency and the Meeks’ unlikely climb through Washington’s ruthless politics this month. It will become the first black foreign affairs committee chair this month.
Two decades later, the New York Democrat said he was ready, if asked – to face Maduro, whom he remembered from that era as a good listener and committed to social justice.
“There will be no good softball or good old days remembrance,” Meeks said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “We will have a very heavy discussion about what happened and what will happen.” It must happen to abolish something powerful that has happened since he became president. ”
To talk to Maduro or not: That’s a disruptive question facing the incoming Biden administration while reevaluating US policies that have gathered immigrants deported in Miami. But little was done to allow Maduro to seize power or alleviate the suffering of normal Venezuelans.
Assistant Biden said the elected president had limited options to put pressure on Maduro and had no plans to lift sanctions on crippling oil or an indictment against Maduro for drug trafficking.
But analysts expect Biden to get rid of sulfuric acid almost every day targeting Maduro and the threat of “military choice” that represents Trump’s foreign policy, in which Venezuela occupies a privileged area. But he vowed to emphasize a multilateral approach with the goal of holding free and fair elections as quickly as possible.
Enter Meeks, who attended Chávez’s funeral in 2013 on behalf of the Obama administration, and his long involvement with Latin America gave him the right position to open up diplomatic opportunities. Even though he doesn’t speak Spanish But his reputation as a straight athlete has earned him respect for the ideological divide of the region.
Among those he joined an unlikely alliance was former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a legal conservative working to improve many Afro-Colombians, who were Part of free trade talks more than a decade ago that Meeks supported the resistance Of his party Relations with Uribe, backed by Venezuelan opposition and broken up by the Latin American left – could come in handy as he tries to build momentum in his political engagement with Maduro.
“Maduro did not trust his own shadow. But he may trust Gregory Meeks, ”said former Rep. Bill Delahunt, who traveled with Meeks to Chávez’s funeral and then two more times to Caracas in a previously unreported mission to improve bilateral relations. Up front would be Meeks, I have no doubt that he will be a valuable asset to the Biden management. ”
Meeks said he was not regarded as a peacemaker. But he said he would be happy to speak to Maduro’s government if his Latin American partners, the EU and Biden’s administration saw value in that approach.
He said his first voyage as chairman since the success of fellow New Yorker Eliot Engel was to Haiti and Colombia, including a visit to the Venezuela border, where Thousands of immigrants skip every day looking for food and medical care.
“I want people to know that Hispanics won’t think of anything later,” Meeks said.
Moreover, he is open to involvement with Maduro stalwarts, Cuba and Russia in any negotiations taking place, assuming the US allies agree.
“That’s possible,” he said, adding that the Trump administration this week’s designation of Cuba as a supporter of state terrorism will complicate access to information. “That’s how you tackle the implicit problem. Importantly, you get buy-ins from large numbers of people to give Venezuelans confidence in the electoral process. ”
The State Department’s latest cable defending the Trump administration’s rigid policy warned that Russia is working closely with Maduro’s military and financial officials to undermine hemisphere security. The cable, a copy given to the AP by parliamentary officials on conditions of anonymity to share diplomatic communications, indicated a more staunch support for democratic efforts in Venezuela to strengthen the legislature. US sanctions
“Russia is symbolically and very publicly using its relationship with the anti-US regime,” according to the Sept. 9 cable, it said it was “sensitive. But not specified. ”Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, sent to Mike Pompeo by James Story, Ambassador to Venezuela’s Affairs in Colombia.
“If left to perish, Venezuela will prove itself a worrisome splinter in America’s foreign policy in the region and prove to be very costly to the interests of the United States. ”Cable concludes.
A spokesman for Biden’s transformation team declined to comment.
Meeks’ nearly 20-year relationship with Maduro began when the pair formed what is known as the Boston Group, an informal network of U.S. and Venezuelan lawmakers from all political perspectives, including Democrats. Republicans, socialists and capitalists gather in Washington and Cape Cod to repair bilateral ties after a brief coup with Chavez, which the United States quickly perceives to do.
The group had been largely canceled, with Meeks being the only American member still in Congress. But a relationship that was created two decades ago has proven to be flexible. For example, Republican employees who participated in the same four-day law exchange in Cape Code with Meeks and Maduro led the effort in the back lane, which in 2018 released Joshua Holt, a Utah man. Imprisoned for two years in Caracas prison Was widely viewed as a brave weapon charge
Recently, former lawmaker Pedro Díaz-Blum, a coordinator for the Boston Group in Venezuela, gathered dozens of pro-economists – Maduro and opposition to prepare a joint study on how to power up the country’s oil industry. Damaged They also discussed ways to provide humanitarian aid to the country through multilateral agencies.
After the US presidential election Díaz-Blum Traveled to Washington and saw Meeks before the expedition, which he said he held on his own, he also met Maduro, who reiterated his willingness to negotiate with the United States.
“I am a member of the Boston Group as a lawmaker and I have been to America many times,” Maduro said Tuesday in a speech to Venezuela’s parliament, which is controlled by the Socialist Party after the election was opposed by the opposition as unfair. “I have great respect and admiration for the United States, its people and culture.”
After several failed mediation attempts by the Vatican and Norway, the talks have become a hint of the weakness and comfort of many in the opposition. Not for nothing, the Trump administration said the only thing it will negotiate with Maduro is his exit terms.
Meeks said he rejected that logic.Richard Grenell, a close ally of Trump, who is a former acting director of the US National Intelligence Service, met with aide Jorge Rodríguez. Maduro’s high level, now the president of the National Assembly supporting a government unknown to the United States.
“Trump’s policies were predetermined on Florida politics – nothing was accomplished,” Meeks said.
Still, he said he had no illusions about Maduro. After Chávez’s funeral, Meeks said he quietly returned to Caracas two times in a previously unreported attempt to pave the way for a diplomatic exchange that hasn’t happened since 2010 on one of the trips he called. Cried Maduro to release opposition activist Leopold Lopez. Then go to prison for leading the anti-government protests.
Reconciliation efforts failed and Meeks said he left the experience disappointed. Any future overture will have to have predetermined conditions, he said.
“You can’t take his word for it,” Meeks said of Maduro. “He proved to me that he was unwilling to follow, or that something political that prevented him from doing that.”
Joshua Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman