President Maduro tells U.S. he wants jailed diplomat Alex Saab as part of his delegation to Mexico City or there would be no negotiations

Venezuelan President Alex Maduro says he wants diplomat and businessman Alex Saab, who is currently imprisoned in Cape Verde for alleged money laundering between 2011 and 2015, as part of his delegation to Mexico City, or there would be no negotiations, according to an ally. Saab, who is awaiting extradition to the United States, vehemently denies any money laundering charge against him.

The Constitutional Court in Cape Verde rejected Saab’s appeal against extradition on September 7, but his lawyers say the setback does not “represent the end of the legal road” for him, and that “several options remain open to him, both in Cape Verde and internationally.”

“Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro is also not sitting and watching as the United States manipulates and bends Cape Verde to do its bidding. President Maduro is keen to have Saab be part of his delegation that is negotiating a potential political settlement with Venuzuelan Unitary Platform opposition in Mexico City,” an associate said, explaining that the United States views Saab’s extradition as “a means to apply “maximum pressure” on President Maduro to achieve “its goal of illegal regime change in Venezuela.”

The Unitary Platform, notionally led by Juan Guaidó, is locked in a stalemate with President Maduro, and has argued that Venezuela lacks the conditions for free mayoral and gubernatorial elections due to be held in November. However, tens of thousands of opposition candidates have registered their candidacies.

The associate said in requesting that he be part his delegation, “President Maduro is reconfirming Saab’s status as a highly valued diplomat and negotiator.”

“By placing the matter of Saab’s fate squarely on the table President Maduro is signaling that no settlement can be reached without the safe return of his trusted diplomatic agent to Venezuela,” the associate added.

The talks, led by the Head of the National Assembly Rodriguez for the government, are being mediated by Norway and appear to be making progress.

Diplomatic tensions between President Maduro’s government and Washingron have placed an unwelcome international spotlight on Cape Verde. A recent survey found that 62% of citizens of Cape Verde believe the “President of the Republic [Jorge Carlos Fonseca] did not have the strength or courage to enforce the diplomatic status of Alex Saab.”

Additionally, 65% of people surveyed believe the $400m “investment” offered to Cape Verde by the United States in compensation is in return for Cape Verde’s agreeing to detain and extradite Saab.

The impact of the drawn-out legal and negative court decisions of the Saab case have left the people of Cape Verde with a diminished view of both their judiciary and executive.

Many believe outgoing President Jorge Fonseca should have intervened. He is facing growing pressure with many in his country believing his legacy will be likened to that of Nero – fiddling whilst the constitution burned.

“Standing aside and letting Prime Minister Ulisses Correia do whatever it takes to appease the United States. The recent survey makes it clear that majority of voters regard the damage to Cape Verde’s reputation as being long-term and no easy way out other than bringing the Saab matter to a fair and equitable end,” Maduro’s associate said. “With the President, the justice system and the United States under pressure, the fate of Alex Saab is still up in the air. The message is clear, President Maduro will not be bowed by the US State Department and nor will the people of Cape Verde who are very clear on what they think their international responsibilities are even if their President wasn’t.”

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