V.enezuela’s government has suspended negotiations with the opposition, which should have resumed this weekend. The socialist MP Jorge Rodríguez, who heads the government’s negotiating team, announced on Saturday. The background is the extradition of the Colombian businessman Alex Saab by the Cape Verde Islands to the United States.
Saab, who is considered a key figure at the interface of government and private business, was indicted in the United States in 2019. There is also an arrest warrant in Colombia. He is said to have fraudulently exploited the state-controlled exchange rate in Venezuela. A state food program is also said to have enriched him and, presumably, members of the Venezuelan government.
“Very serious action”
Saab was arrested in Cape Verde in 2020 when his plane stopped for fuel there. Nevertheless, Saab was appointed by the Venezuelan government as a member of the negotiating team for the talks with the opposition, which have been taking place in Mexico since September and are intended to help resolve the political crisis. The Cape Verdean Constitutional Court ruled in September after a lengthy legal process that Saab could be extradited.
This judgment was carried out on Saturday. In a statement read by Rodríguez, the government described the extradition of Saab as a “very serious act” and a “brutal aggression against the person and the office of delegate Alex Saab”. Saab’s attorneys describe the indictment in the United States as being politically motivated.
The violent reaction in Caracas shows that Saab is not just any businessman. He has been doing business with the Venezuelan state for years. In 2011, under President Hugo Chávez, he signed lucrative contracts for the construction of social housing. His company later signed a several hundred million dollar contract to import food into Venezuela for the state food program.
Government members are said to have illegally enriched themselves from this business. If you believe the former Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega, who was deposed in 2017 and had to flee into exile, Saab worked directly on behalf of President Nicolás Maduro. Most recently, Caracas had sent him to Iran as a diplomat.
The suspension of talks with the opposition comes at a critical time. Regional elections are to take place in Venezuela in just over a month. After years of boycotts, the opposition agreed to participate in the election, although the prerequisites are still the subject of negotiations.
Maduro’s main objective is for the United States to lift sanctions against Venezuela. Dialogue with the opposition is a prerequisite for this.