Sat, Dec 02, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Venezuela officials, foes to reopen talks

‘PARODY’:Some members of the opposition have criticized the discussions, saying that they are an instrument helping the government buy time and remain in power

Reuters, CARACAS and SANTO DOMINGO

Members of Venezuela’s leftist government and opposition coalition were yesterday to meet in the Dominican Republic to resume talks aimed at resolving the OPEC nation’s long-running and often bloody political standoff.

Various attempts at dialogue in recent years have failed, with foes accusing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of exploiting the talks to buy time and Maduro saying that the opposition prefers violence.

However, few Venezuelans expect a breakthrough this time, with opposition supporters disillusioned at seeing Maduro consolidate power and position himself for possible re-election next year.

The Democratic Unity coalition — which failed to dislodge Maduro in months of street protests this year that led to about 125 deaths — is pressing for a guarantee of free and fair elections next year.

It also wants a foreign humanitarian aid corridor to alleviate one of the worst economic crises in modern history, as well as freedom for several hundred jailed activists and respect for the opposition-led Venezuelan National Assembly.

However, the opposition’s bargaining power has been weakened by a surprising defeat in October gubernatorial elections. Furthermore, the multiparty group is divided, with more militant sectors opposing the talks.

“The dialogue they are planning to start is a parody ... an instrument for the regime to gain time and keep itself in power,” said Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an opposition leader who escaped house arrest this month to seek asylum abroad.

Strengthened by the October vote and anticipating another win in mayoral elections set for this month, which the opposition is boycotting, Maduro has instructed his negotiators to focus on opposition to US sanctions against his government.

US President Donald Trump has slapped individual sanctions on a raft of officials from Maduro down for alleged rights abuses, corruption and drug crimes, as well as economic measures intended to prevent the Venezuelan government from issuing new debt.

Maduro has blamed the US measures for Venezuela’s economic problems — which began several years ago amid failed statist policies and a plunge in global oil prices — and wants any potential deal with the opposition to include joint pressure on Washington to back off.

However, there is no indication that Trump would be prepared to ease pressure on Maduro, whom he has called “a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”

On the contrary, US officials have said Washington could strengthen sanctions unless Maduro enacts democratic changes.

Government negotiators in Santo Domingo also want recognition for the Venezuela Constituent National Assembly — an entirely pro-Maduro super-body elected in July, despite an opposition boycott and widespread international condemnation.

Eyeing an effort to refinance more than US$120 billion in foreign debt, Maduro would also like the opposition-led congress to agree to approve any negotiations with bondholders, a potential loophole to get around US sanctions.

Foreign ministers from Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua and host Dominican Republic were scheduled to join the meeting as guarantors. The talks are scheduled over two days at the Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Santo Domingo.

“Major near-term breakthroughs remain unlikely given the complexity of issues on the table and the distance between each side’s preferences,” consultancy Eurasia Group said.

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