United States President Donald Trump’s administration is reportedly diverting more than US$40 million in aid destined for Central America to the Venezuelan opposition.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a memo from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was handed to Congress on July 11 saying that $41.9 million was being handed to self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido and his team. The memo argued that there is an “exigent” crisis involving US “national interest”.
The LA Times report added that the money is destined for salaries, airfares, “good governance” training, propaganda, technical assistance for holding elections and other “democracy-building” projects.
The funds were reportedly destined for Guatemala and Honduras.
Poverty, insecurity and political instability have resulted in a growing influx of Central American migrants to the US in recent years. Trump has threatened to cut all aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if those countries fail to stop the flow of migrants towards Mexico and the US.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself “interim president” on January 23, receiving the prompt backing of Washington and allied regional governments. In the six months since, he has led several attempts to oust the Nicolas Maduro government, including a humanitarian aid “showdown” on February 23 and an attempted military putsch on April 30.
Guaido has been mired in a corruption scandal, after international funds meant to support soldiers who heeded his call to desert were allegedly embezzled by his envoys in Colombia.
The latest revelations of US financial support come on the heels of the European Union (EU) announcing and threatening new sanctions against the Caribbean country.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said on July 16 that the bloc is readying sanctions against security officials “involved in torture and other serious violations of human rights”. Retired Naval Officer Rafael Acosta died in state custody on June 29. He was allegedly subjected to torture, having been arrested and accused of involvement in a coup plot.
Mogherini added that the EU would impose more sanctions if it failed to see “concrete results” from the current government-opposition talks.
The European Parliament likewise approved a resolution on July 16 backing sanctions against security officials and demanding results from ongoing negotiations, as well as reiterating support for "legitimate interim president Juan Guaido”.
The EU has imposed sanctions against several high-ranking Venezuelan officials and has blocked sales of arms and other inputs. Several assets held in European territories have also been frozen, including bank accounts and gold deposits. Washington has imposed unilateral measures against individuals and several sectors of the Venezuelan economy, chief among them the oil industry.
Caracas reacted promptly to the EU announcement, with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza criticising Mogherini’s “meddling” in Venezuelan affairs.
“[Mogherini] is proffering unacceptable threats, at a time when [understanding] is vital for the dialogue between the people in Venezuela,” he wrote on Twitter.
Arreaza held a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York on July 17, in which Guterres offered his backing for the current dialogue process.
The Venezuelan government and opposition are currently engaged in Norway-mediated talks in Barbados. After two rounds of negotiations held in Oslo, Norway in May, negotiations resumed on July 15.
No details have been disclosed about the content of the talks, however, the Norwegian government praised both sides for their commitment. There have been unconfirmed reports that discussion of early elections is being left until last.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]