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Maduro Reveals Aide's Secret Meetings With U.S. Envoy Abrams

CARACAS, Venezuela—President Nicolas Maduro has invited a U.S. special envoy to Venezuela after revealing in an AP interview that his foreign minister recently held secret meetings with the U.S. official in New York.

A senior Venezuelan official said the second of two meetings took place Feb. 11 — four days after the envoy, Elliott Abrams, said the “time for dialogue with Maduro had long passed,” and as the Trump administration publicly backed an effort to unseat the embattled Venezuelan president.

Even while harshly criticizing Donald Trump’s confrontational stance toward his socialist government, Maduro said he holds out hope of meeting the U.S. president soon to resolve a crisis over the U.S.’ recognition of opponent Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

Maduro said that while in New York, his foreign minister invited Abrams to come to Venezuela “privately, publicly or secretly.”

“If he wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how and I’ll be there,” Maduro said without providing more details. He said both New York meetings lasted several hours.

There was no immediate U.S. comment.

Venezuela is plunging deeper into a political chaos triggered by the U.S. demand that Maduro step down a month into a second term that the U.S. and its allies in Latin America consider illegitimate. The heated crisis is taking place against a backdrop of economic and social turmoil that has led to severe shortages of food and medicine that have force millions to flee the once-prosperous OPEC nation.

At turns conciliatory and combative, Maduro said all Venezuela needs to rebound is for Trump to remove his “infected hand” from the country that sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves. He said U.S. sanctions on the oil industry are to blame for mounting hardships even though shortages and hyperinflation that economists say topped 1 million percent long predates Trump’s recent action.

“The infected hand of Donald Trump is hurting Venezuela,” Maduro said.

Amid the mounting pressure at home and abroad, Maduro said he won’t give up power as a way to defuse the standoff.

He called boxes of U.S.-supplied humanitarian aid sitting in a warehouse on the border in Colombia mere “crumbs” after the U.S. administration froze billions of dollars in the nation’s oil revenue and overseas assets.

“They hang us, steal our money and then say ‘here, grab these crumbs’ and make a global show out of it,” said Maduro. “With dignity we say ‘No to the global show.’ Whoever wants to help Venezuela is welcome, but we have enough capacity to pay for everything that we need.”

IAN PHILLIPS and JOSHUA GOODMAN / The Associated Press

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