As confusion continues over who is the legitimate leader of Venezuela, U.S. envoy to the country Elliot Abrams told reporters on Wednesday he is concerned for the safety of Juan Guaido, the country’s “self-proclaimed interim president.” The Trump White House has been a vocal supporter of Guaido ever since he announced his claim to the interim-presidency, and several other allied nations in the region are also backing him. However, China, Russia, and Iran have come out publicly in support of the country’s current ruler, Nicolas Maduro.
“The security of interim President Guaido is a concern,” said Abrams while speaking to the press, according to Reuters. “The regime has not acted against him in some time and I hope that is because they recognize that he has the support of the vast majority of Venezuelans and that would be an extremely foolish move for the regime to make.”
The Maduro regime has a long history of suspected human rights abuses. Both the United Nations and groups such as Human Rights Watch have reported incidents of murder, wrongful imprisonment, and torture perpetrated by Venezuelan security forces. So far, Maduro is using a hands-off policy regarding Guaido, but with international support pouring in, some fear he may become emboldened to take action against political rivals.
“I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela,” Maduro said while speaking to reporters from RIA Novosti, Russia’s state-controlled media outlet, according to the BBC.
In the meantime, Washington is beginning to coordinate the humanitarian response with Guaido. Reuters reports the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Mark Green talked to the Venezuelan president-elect on Wednesday about the South American country’s specific needs, although as of this writing, no plan has been finalized. Last year, the U.S. Navy deployed the USNS Comfort to South America in order to assist allied countries in dealing with the mass influx of Venezuelan refugees who have been crossing the border in search of food, medicine, and jobs.
Abrams was appointed special envoy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week despite his sour relationship with President Trump. Abrams had originally been vying for the position of Deputy Secretary of State, but according to a report from Politico, was denied the job by Trump due to the former’s criticisms of the president. Abrams previously worked in the George W. Bush White House and was a proponent of the war in Iraq.