By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - Newly appointed US ambassador to Venezuela James Story continued America’s hardline approach toward President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday, dashing hopes for a change in the Trump administration’s stance toward the South American country.
In a 30-minute conversation on Facebook Live called 'Aló, embajador' (Hello, ambassador) which has been held weekly in an attempt to maintain ties with Venezuelans in their country or with those who have fled due to the economic crisis there, Story expressed his support for opposition leader Juan Guaido and the National Assembly.
"We are going to continue with the pressure and we are going to support the democratic forces and civil society in Venezuela," he said in the conversation, which he named after an unscripted talk show called ‘Alo, Presidente’ (Hello, President) that was hosted by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
On Wednesday, Story was appointed by the US Senate as the country’s first ambassador to Venezuela in 10 years. The US has not sent an ambassador since 2010, when relations first started breaking down under Chavez.
Story also called Maduro's government an “authoritarian regime” and criticized Venezuela’s forthcoming elections in December.
“While there are energy, gasoline, oil production, medicine problems and the lack of a response to the pandemic, this regime wants to commit fraud in the Dec. 6 parliamentary elections,” he said.
“We believe in elections. But what kind of elections? We support interim President Juan Guaido, and the international community will not recognize this fraud, and neither will Venezuelans.”
Story talked about hyperinflation in the country, the two dollar minimum wage and food insecurity and blamed Maduro for destroying the nation’s once thriving oil sector.
“He [Maduro] says the problems in the oil industry come from oil sanctions. But the sanctions started in January 2019, and the problems started with Maduro,” he said.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has increased sanctions on Maduro’s government in recent years in an effort to pressure the Venezuelan leader to step down.
But critics say the heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power and made life harder for people living in Venezuela.
Story had previously led an American virtual embassy while serving as Chargé d’affairs for the Venezuela Affairs Unit in Bogota, the capital of Venezuela’s neighbor, Colombia, where he will carry out the job. He said he hopes to return to Caracas to do his job.