Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro has said he wants a meeting with US president Donald Trump – the man he ridicules as a crass imperial magnate and blasts for sanctions against officials in his socialist government.
In a long address to the 545 members of a new, all- powerful constitutional assembly, Mr Maduro instructed Venezuela’s foreign minister to approach the US about arranging a telephone conversation or meeting with Mr Trump.
“Mr Donald Trump, here is my hand,” the president said, adding that he wanted as strong a relationship with the US as he has with Russia.
He said he wanted “a personal conversation” when the two leaders attend the UN General Assembly in New York next month. The remarks came shortly after Mr Maduro warned Mr Trump that Venezuela “will never give in”.
The Trump administration has called Mr Maduro a “dictator” and issued sanctions against him and more than two dozen other former and current officials, accusing the government of abusing human rights and undermining the country’s democracy amid an escalating political and financial crisis.
On Thursday, Credit Suisse bank banned the trading and use of Venezuelan bonds.
The bank will no longer trade, nor accept as collateral, two specific types of Venezuelan securities as well as any bonds the country issued from June 1.
Any businesses wishing to do business with Venezuela and deal in any assets there will have to go through additional screening.
In the memo, the bank cited “recent developments and the political climate” in the country for the ban.
Venezuela has been the subject of mounting international criticism over a crackdown on opponents and moves to consolidate power, including the selection of the assembly controlled by Mr Maduro.
It is in the midst of a severe economic downturn caused by low oil prices and poor government policies.
The country’s bonds are one of the few ways the government can raise money to support its collapsing economy.
But as the country’s political crisis has worsened, the bonds issued by the government as well as the state-owned oil company PDVSA have become a point of contention and concern for investors who increasingly worry they are supporting an oppressive regime as well as a country that is a great risk of defaulting on debts.
Goldman Sachs came under political pressure this year for buying £2.1billion in Venezuelan bonds on the open market at a significant discount.
National Assembly president Julio Borges, leader of the country’s opposition, has sent more than a dozen letters to leading global banks warning them of the risk to their reputations and bottom line if they throw a lifeline to Mr Maduro.
On Wednesday, a fifth opposition mayor was removed from his post.
A group of young people set up barricades in the eastern Caracas district of El Hatillo on Thursday to protest at the decision to jail mayor David Smolansky for 15 months for not obeying orders to halt the protests.
Andres Paez, a lawyer who joined the protest, said they could not allow “the dictatorship to hunt down, imprison and treat our mayors like criminals”.
Mr Smolansky issued a video from an undisclosed location in which he called on residents to take to the streets to uphold their right to representation against what he called the government’s “political firing squad”.
He added: “I want to tell you all that I continue being a public servant by vocation and conviction. My commitment to restoring freedom remains.”