Kerry to discuss Venezuelan crisis on Mexico visit: U.S. official

Reuters News
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Posted: May 21, 2014 1:05 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss stalled talks over unrest in Venezuela on a trip to Mexico on Wednesday, a State Department official said, adding that Washington hopes for progress quickly to ease a crisis in which dozens have been killed.

"We feel strongly that all of the democracies in the Western Hemisphere have a pretty important role to play when something is happening in Venezuela," the official told reporters before leaving on Kerry's first visit to Mexico as the top U.S. diplomat.

"There's a role for all of us to play in trying to press whoever we have to ... to move ahead with this process pretty smartly, to get some results, which has not happened yet," the official said, acknowledging that neither Mexico nor the United States exerts much influence over Venezuela, a country that has been a U.S. antagonist in recent years.

"I don't think we have a whole lot of time," the official said, despite stressing that Washington does not yet believe it is time to impose sanctions.

Kerry's meetings in Mexico City include sessions with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade.

Since anti-government demonstrations began in Venezuela in February, 42 people have been killed and more than 800 injured. About 3,000 people have also been arrested, with more than 200 still behind bars.

The unrest has been Venezuela's worst in a decade and drawn attention to the OPEC nation's deep economic problems, including soaring inflation and scarcities of basic goods. But talks between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition to resolve the crisis have stumbled. Mediators from the Union of South American States urged both sides back to the negotiating table on Tuesday.

A U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would impose travel and financial sanctions on individual Venezuelans deemed responsible for human rights abuses. The measure is many steps from becoming law, but the State Department official said the administration felt it was inappropriate to put such measures into place now for fear of torpedoing negotiations.

"We don't support taking those actions right now. We certainly understand the frustration that's led to that legislation. And the focus on the human rights abusers we think is the right one," said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

(Editing by Tom Brown)