BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrapped up a trip to crisis-plagued Venezuela by warning the country is on a "destructive path" that could result in more suffering unless the socialist government adopts more moderate policies before congressional elections.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, met this week in Caracas with members of the opposition, including relatives of jailed politicians, as well as government officials. The surprise visit, the first in years by a U.S. senator, follows weeks of high-level meetings between President Nicolas Maduro and State Department envoys as the Obama administration seeks to reduce tensions with its fiercest critic in Latin America.
"It is very sad to see that the country's flawed economic policies and political system have put Venezuela on such a destructive path," Corker said in a statement issued Thursday upon his return to the U.S.
He urged Venezuelan leaders on all sides to embrace free markets and to respect human rights and the rule of law among other policies, saying that is needed to prevent a further breakdown of order in a country already suffering from triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages.
He said the months leading up to Dec. 6 legislative elections, which polls say the opposition is heavily favored to win, "will show the world whether Venezuela is willing to take even modest steps toward this end."
It's unclear with whom in the government Corker met besides Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, whose job it is to advocate for victims of human rights abuses. Corker's office told The Associated Press that the senator was unavailable for further comment.