Venezuela’s leader meets with Durbin

CARACAS, Venezuela — A high-ranking U.S. senator said he pressed for fair elections and the release of a jailed American when he had a private meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, said before departing Venezuela that he urged Maduro to uphold democratic rights ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential election. But he said he doubts any changes will be forthcoming

His four-day trip, made at Venezuela’s invitation, included a visit with Joshua Holt, who has been jailed in Caracas for nearly two years on what the U.S. considers trumped-up weapons charges.

Durbin, the author of a recent Senate resolution condemning Maduro’s use of food as a “tool of political coercion,” said he took time to walk through parts of Caracas, seeing the downtrodden faces of residents struggling to feed themselves. He also talked with doctors who are unable to get enough medicine to treat patients.

“I was heartbroken by what I saw and heard, particularly regarding the collapse of the country’s ability to feed and medically care for its people and children,” he said in an interview Saturday at the conclusion of his trip.

The government has yet to comment on what was discussed during Durbin’s visit.

The rare visit came as President Donald Trump’s administration weighs an embargo on Venezuela’s oil shipments on top of sanctions already imposed on dozens of officials, including Maduro, for decimating the country’s economy, spurring a humanitarian crisis and straying away from democratic practices.

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