Venezuela talks resume in wake of more arrests

  • : Crude oil, Oil products
  • 19/07/15

Venezuela's government and opposition are resuming negotiations in Barbados today, but both sides are resisting proposed concessions that would facilitate elections next April.

The opposition has pledged to revive the battered national oil industry once President Nicolas Maduro is removed from power. But even if a deal can be reached to hold new elections, there is no agreement on Maduro's standing before the poll, and the opposition faces the risk that a successor to Maduro would win.

Information minister Jorge Rodriguez said on arriving in Barbados that Maduro is "committed to a permanent dialogue for peace" and urged the political opposition led by Juan Guaido to disavow "all unconstitutional actions" aimed at forcing a regime change.

Guaido, the National Assembly president who is recognized by over 50 mainly western states as Venezuela's interim president, said in Trujillo state yesterday that the talks in Barbados "are not a dialogue, but rather a mediation by the government of Norway."

National Assembly second vice president Stalin Gonzalez, a member of Guaido's delegation in Barbados, said the goal of the Oslo-brokered talks is to "achieve a pact in coming days to end the suffering of Venezuelans."

Guaido's delegation also includes Gerardo Blyde, the former mayor of Baruta municipality in Caracas, and former transport and communications minister Fernando Martinez Mottola who served under late president Carlos Andres Perez in 1992-93.

Maduro's delegation to Barbados includes information minister Rodriguez, foreign minister Jorge Arreaza and Miranda state governor Hector Rodriguez, who is seen as the likely candidate of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) if an agreement is reached to hold new presidential elections by April 2020.

The primary obstacle to an agreement appears to be Maduro's refusal to leave the presidency voluntarily ahead of new elections in nine months, government and opposition officials say.

For its part, the opposition is rejecting a government proposal for Guaido to relinquish his self-declared interim presidency and recuse himself from running for president in next year's elections, a Guaido aide close to the talks in Barbados said.

Diosdado Cabello, the second most powerful figure in Maduro's government and head of the controversial National Constituent Assembly (ANC), maintained early today that Maduro will not accept any deal requiring his resignation ahead of elections because it would amount to "surrendering the presidency to which he was elected constitutionally."

The crisis erupted in early January after Maduro was sworn in for another six-year term based on a May 2018 election that was widely deemed abroad as fraudulent. Invoking the constitution, Guaido declared his interim presidency on 23 January, asserting that Maduro's presidency was illegitimate.

The new round of talks are resuming amid political tensions triggered by the arrests of three individuals, including two of Guaido's bodyguards, who are charged with trying to sell up to five Russian-made AK-103 assault weapons allegedly stolen from the army.

The 12 July arrests by government security forces were first disclosed by Rodriguez. Defense minister general Vladimir Padrino, whom Maduro ratified in his post on 5 July, issued a statement separately yesterday rejecting the political opposition's alleged attempt to sell the arms.

Guaido dismissed the allegations by Rodriguez and Padrino as phony. The opposition security officials, identified as Erick Sanchez and Jason Parisi, were "kidnapped" by Maduro's intelligence services who "planted weapons" to justify their illegal arrests the same way that the regime planted weapons on his chief of staff Roberto Marrero when he was arrested illegally on 21 March, Guaido said.

The US administration, which recognizes Guaido as Venezuela's interim leader, says Maduro's departure should be a pre-condition for new elections. "Guaido and his team are not negotiating in Barbados because they trust the regime – they are negotiating to end the regime," State Department special Venezuelan envoy Elliott Abrams said on 12 July.

Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Luis Almagro, who spoke alongside Abrams to highlight a recent UN report on human rights violations by the Maduro government, questioned the need for talks and called on the US not to relax its sanctions regime.

"If the US lets up pressure, this process will conclude in the same way that the previous four or five negotiations that have taken place since 2014," Almagro said.

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