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Top White House advisor on Latin America is set to depart

President Joe Biden’s top adviser at the White House on the Western Hemisphere is set to depart his post in mid-March, a National Security Council official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald.

Juan Gonzalez, special assistant to the president and senior director for the Western Hemisphere, advocated for direct talks with Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and for avoiding U.S. military involvement in Haiti throughout his tenure at the White House.

A national security official noted that Gonzalez, who previously advised Biden on Latin America during his time as vice president, was “the principal architect and spokesperson” of Biden’s Americas policy, leading U.S. negotiations with Mexico over a joint response to the illicit drug trade and economic partnerships throughout the region.

With Gonzalez at the policy helm, the Biden administration has been praised for its recent support for Guatemala during its electoral crisis. Gonzalez was also a pivotal figure in securing the release of Americans wrongfully detained in Venezuela, and in supporting Guyana as it came under threat from Maduro.

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security advisor, told McClatchy that Biden for years has relied on Gonzalez’s “deep expertise and creative counsel in the region to reinvigorate U.S. leadership and partnerships.”

“No one has been more central to driving President Biden’s vision for partnership in the Americas than Juan,” Sullivan said. “He’s deepened strategic relationships with partners like Brazil and Mexico, expanded economic cooperation with countries like Costa Rica and Chile, and advanced energy security in the Caribbean – bringing to life the President’s commitment to grow all our economies from the bottom up and the middle out.”

“We look forward to continuing to benefit from his expertise,” he added.

Gonzalez has also collected several critics across the region over several key policies, including the administration’s decision to maintain distance with departing President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil over his approach to democracy, while at the same time flying to Caracas to meet with Maduro.

China has also gained influence in the region in recent years at the expense of the United States. Honduras changed its allegiance over Taiwan, and Ecuador, under President Guillermo Lasso, turned to Beijing over trade differences with the United States.

Latin America watchers have been critical of Gonzalez’s push for a “Venezuelan-led solution” to the nation’s political crisis, which in the past few months moved the administration toward dismantling previously imposed sanctions on Caracas.

While successfully negotiating an accord with Maduro, critics of this policy said that Washington ended up granting too many concessions in return for promises to hold free elections that officials in the South American country are showing no signs of meaning to fulfill.

After a series of negotiations held last year with regime officials, some of which were personally held by Gonzalez, the Biden administration did secure the release of all U.S. citizens that Washington believed were held unjustly in the South American country, in exchange for the release of Maduro’s business partner, Alex Saab, who was in custody facing corruption charges in Miami.

The administration also brokered negotiations between Maduro and Venezuela’s democratic opposition that led to a breakthrough in Barbados last year committing the regime to a roadmap toward fair and competitive elections.

The rapprochement began turning sour last month, however, after the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld a ban on presidential contender Maria Corina Machado to compete for public office. She had overwhelmingly won the opposition’s primary election with more than 92% of the vote.

The ruling by a state-run court was seen as a violation of the Barbados accord, setting up a road map for a democratic transition. The administration reimposed the ban of Venezuelan gold sales and warned that Caracas had until the end of April to make good on its promises if it wanted to avoid the reinsertion of sanctions on its oil exports.

Daniel Erikson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere at the Department of Defense, will replace Gonzalez next month. Erikson has been intimately involved in regional issues but out of the public view. Erikson was previously with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C. as an senior associate.

Source: MSN