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Venezuela's Juan Guaido says 'no' to future talks with Nicolas Maduro

Posted January 21, 2020 9:42 p.m. EST

— Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has said that he would not engage in dialogue with Nicolas Maduro, despite the embattled president's recent overture to sit down with his political rival.

"The dictatorship killed that opportunity," Guaido told CNN in an interview on Tuesday.

"We tried to talk through a proposal of a very simple solution guaranteed to all sectors, a truly free presidential election. It was the dictatorship that blocked that opportunity, like it has done time and time again," he added, referring to past attempts to resolve the country's year-long political standoff.

The self-declared interim president of Venezuela leader is on a whistle-stop tour of Europe, defying a travel ban and risking arrest to meet with foreign leaders as part of a renewed push to oust Maduro.

On Tuesday, Guaido met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. On Thursday, he will head to the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, where he hopes to rendezvous with US President Donald Trump.

Almost exactly a year since he claimed leadership of Venezuela's transitional government, Guaido has been recognized as the nation's legitimate head by more than 50 countries. But he has struggled to convert that backing into significant gains against the Maduro government's iron-grip on power.

Despite continued setbacks, the head of Venezuela's legislature seems more determined than ever to find a way forward toward democracy for the country. "We want a transition and we are working towards that ... We are not resigned, to the contrary, we are fighting," Guaido said.

He added: "We are asking for something simple: fair, free presidential elections."

The US has been a big supporter of Guaido's fight, applying its own pressure on Maduro to leave office through sanctions which heavily target oil, Venezuela's economic lifeblood -- but to little avail.

In an interview with the Washington Post earlier this week, Maduro called for direct talks between his government and the US. But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the US would not negotiate unless Maduro was willing to commit to giving up his office.

"There's been no demonstration that [Maduro] is prepared to permit free and open presidential elections," Pompeo said in Costa Rica Tuesday, after meeting Guaido in Bogota, Colombia, earlier in the week.

Last year, Norway-backed talks between Venezuela's opposition and Maduro's government collapsed, failing to produce any sort of deal that might have paved the way to a new vote.

Guaido admits that there is "frustration" at the pace of change a year after his attempted takeover, but brushed off Maduro's claim to be the president in control.

"He's in control of the disaster and humanitarian emergency, the abuse of human rights, corruption. Right now there's no electricity, no water, no medicine, no vaccines for our children, 10 million % inflation. What is the dictator talking about? In control of what?" he asked.

Venezuela resembles war-torn Syria, he said, drawing parallels to his country's sweeping migration crisis and pointing to paramilitary groups operating in the country.

Now, having gained little traction with his persistent humanitarian appeal, Guaido's message seems to have shifted to focus on criminal activity that he says props up Maduro's regime.

As part of his tour, Guaido plans to call on EU and US leaders to stop purchasing Venezuelan "blood gold," which he says is funding Maduro's regime, and the groups loyal to him.

"I think this is an important moment, and there is a global conscience of what the Venezuelan crisis means, again, comparing it to Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan and Yemen," Guaido said. "The difference is that these countries have been in war. We didn't see the bombs but we felt the pain."

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