Venezuela’s Maduro up­beat on talks, op­po­si­tion fear ‘show’

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

CARA­CAS (Reuters) - Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro has pre­dicted a new for­eign-led ef­fort to me­di­ate Venezuela’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis would pro­duce a deal soon, but the op­po­si­tion said on Satur­day it would not ac­cept an­other time­wast­ing “show”.

Fol­low­ing months of anti-Maduro protests ear­lier this year that led to at least 125 deaths, both sides sent del­e­ga­tions to meet the Do­mini­can Repub­lic’s pres­i­dent this week for a pos­si­ble start to a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion.

“After weeks of con­ver­sa­tions, we are close to an agree­ment, of po­lit­i­cal co-ex­is­tence, of peace and sovereignty,” Maduro said in a speech late on Fri­day. “We’re very near.”

But the op­po­si­tion, which ac­cuses Maduro of cre­at­ing a dic­ta­tor­ship and ruin­ing a once-pros­per­ous oil econ­omy, in­sisted the talks in Santo Domingo were only “ex­ploratory” and would not pro­ceed with­out firm guar­an­tees of demo­cratic change.

They want a date for the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, due by the end of 2018, with guar­an­tees it will be free and fair, plus free­dom for hun­dreds of jailed ac­tivists, a for­eign hu­man­i­tar­ian aid cor­ri­dor, and re­spect for the op­po­si­tion-led congress.

“They can’t mess us around like last year, when they promised heaven and earth, but noth­ing hap­pened,” said Julio Borges, the leader of congress which has been over­rid­den by a pro-Maduro leg­isla­tive su­per­body called a Con­stituent As­sem­bly. “If we don’t have iron-clad guar­an­tees ... that ev­ery­thing is lead­ing to demo­cratic change ... we won’t take a step more,” he told re­porters on Satur­day, re­call­ing failed 2016 Vat­i­can-led talks. “We want to avoid a re­peat of last year’s show.”

Maduro says the Con­stituent As­sem­bly has brought peace to the South Amer­i­can na­tion of 30 mil­lion. But many ma­jor for­eign pow­ers do not rec­og­nize the body given its ori­gins in a con­tro­ver­sial elec­tion that the op­po­si­tion boy­cotted.

After more than four months of of­ten vi­o­lent protests, which also led to thou­sands of in­juries and ar­rests, Maduro says a US-fanned coup at­tempt has been de­feated. But the strife has seen in­ter­na­tional opin­ion harden against him. Do­mini­can leader Danilo Me­d­ina said Mex­ico, Chile, Bo­livia and Nicaragua would join a new round of talks on Sept. 27, with two other coun­tries to be de­fined. The Demo­cratic Unity coali­tion said on Satur­day one of those was Paraguay.

While the gov­ern­ment is ea­ger to show the world it is en­ter­ing a di­a­logue, op­po­si­tion lead­ers face scep­ti­cism from their sup­port­ers, many of whom view a po­ten­tial ne­go­ti­a­tion as a be­trayal of dead pro­test­ers and le­git­imiza­tion of an au­to­crat.

Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro speaks dur­ing a meet­ing with min­is­ters in Cara­cas, Venezuela September 15 (Mi­raflo­res Palace/Handout via REUTERS)

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