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Violence continues in Venezuela on first day of peace talks

Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles announces he will take part in dialogue

A roadblock is set up in front of the United Nations office in Caracas.
A roadblock is set up in front of the United Nations office in Caracas.S. DONAIRE (EFE)

As the Venezuelan government prepared to hold its first open and public dialogue with the opposition on Thursday, violence continued across the country. Delivery trucks and buses were set on fire, while demonstrators set up roadblocks across the capital.

President Nicolás Maduro promised to meet with leaders of the opposition for talks aimed at quelling the anti-government demonstrations and unrest that has gripped the country for the past two months. At least 41 people have died and more than 600 people have been injured in the protests.

The televised encounter will be mediated by a group of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and a Vatican official invited by Maduro.

The televised encounter will be mediated by a group of foreign ministers from Unasur and a Vatican official

Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state and a former presidential candidate, announced on Wednesday night that he will attend the meeting. “Some people have asked me not to go, while others say I should go,” he said in an address to his supporters. “I say we should go because we have the truth on our side,” said Capriles, who has challenged last year’s elections results, in which he lost to Maduro by 1.59 percent of the vote.

But leaders of other opposition factions, such as María Corina Machado, have said they will stay away.

Demonstrators took to the streets on February 12 to demand Maduro’s resignation and protest the high crime rate, food shortages and government corruption in Venezuela. The protests have been held throughout the country on a daily basis, but have been mostly confined to Caracas and other large cities.

In Valencia, Carabobo state – one of the country’s biggest industrial centers – a small group set fire to several delivery trucks and passenger buses on Thursday morning.

Maduro has accused the opposition of wanting to overthrow his government

Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, the secretary general of the opposition’s umbrella group, United Democratic Panel (MUD), has said that the talks will be carried out “under the framework of the Constitution.” Maduro has accused the opposition of wanting to overthrow his government.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, a member of the Unasur mission sent to Venezuela, said that MUD has agreed not to demand during the talks that Maduro has to go. Other pre-agreed  points include public condemnation from both sides for the continuing violence in the country, and the commitment that the talks must be open to the public.

“It is possible that agreements may be reached,” Patiño said in an interview with the Caracas daily El Universal. “The idea is not for us to sit here and pretend that there is peace but instead accomplish specific results.”

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