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Maduro agrees to sit down with opposition to discuss ending unrest

Leaders deliver a set of demands, including amnesty, to Venezuelan government

A member of the National Police shoots tear gas during clashes with anti-government demonstrators in Caracas Monday night.
A member of the National Police shoots tear gas during clashes with anti-government demonstrators in Caracas Monday night.JUAN BARRETO (AFP)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said on Monday that he was willing to sit down with members of the opposition in an effort to find a solution to the anti-government protests that have rocked the nation for the past two months.

However, it wasn’t immediately clear whether Maduro agreed to the opposition’s list of prior demands, including an amnesty for its leaders, who have been charged and jailed in recent weeks, and to have the meeting televised live.

“I am ready, and, in fact, I want to sit face-to-face with the opposition factions,” Maduro said in an address Monday night from Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. He made the surprise announcement after meeting with eight foreign ministers who are on a peace mission from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).

I am ready, and I want to sit face-to-face with the opposition factions,” Maduro said Monday

“I am sure that if we end up having this meeting later this afternoon it will be a great message for peace, democracy and for all our people,” the Venezuelan president said.

Maduro’s concession was unexpected because the Venezuelan president had insisted that opposition leaders sit down for a National Peace Conference that he was organizing, but the dissidents had declined to attend because of the way the panel was organized.

Local analysts believe that the opposition has agreed to meet with Maduro sometime later Tuesday, but members of the United Democratic Panel (MUD) – the umbrella group for all dissident parties and organizations – had not said whether it would attend.

On his Twitter account on Tuesday, Henry Ramos Allup, a leader of Acción Democrática (AD) – one of the major parties to emerge following the overthrow of the 1958 dictatorship – confirmed that all opposition groups had representatives at the meeting with the Unasur ministers on Monday night hours after Maduro made his announcement.

Ramos Allup, AD secretary general, neither confirmed nor denied whether MUD would meet with Maduro but stressed that the Vatican, which offered to mediate a peaceful compromise, should be present. As of now the government has not formally invited the Holy See representatives to take part in negotiations.

I am sure that if we end up having this meeting it will be a great message for peace”

The opposition wants the government to release jailed leader Leopoldo López, who has been in military custody since February 18, as well as several mayors and other officials. It is also demanding that the government put an end to the paramilitary vigilante groups that back Maduro and have been attacking protestors at rallies.

The two months of anti-government protests and unrest throughout the country have claimed at least 41 lives. More than 700 people have been injured while human rights groups say that close to 5,000 people have been arrested.

Maduro, who has accused some factions of trying to lead a coup against his government, is under international pressure to meet with the opposition, which has rallied citizens to the streets to protest the country’s food shortages, repression by Venezuelan authorities and insecurity.

There has been a growing reluctance on behalf of the public to believe that a rash of high-profile murders and kidnappings have been taking place at random due to a soaring crime spree.

On Sunday, a 29-year-old television journalist, Nairobi Pinto, was kidnapped in front of her family at her home by three masked men who were armed. Pinto, a reporter for the opposition news channel Globovisión, had just arrived from a supermarket when her parents saw her being thrown into a vehicle.

Her father, Luis Pinto, also a journalist, said that her kidnappers have not contacted the family.

Also on Sunday, police found the bodies of two men who were connected to opposition leaders in a national park with gunshot wounds to their heads. One of the victims was an aide to an opposition mayor while another was a childhood friend of jailed opposition leader López.

Their families said they had disappeared on Saturday.

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