Talks stall in Venezuela after opposition storms out

Opponents of Nicolás Maduro say his government only wants to clean up its image abroad

A street protester tries to take a shield from the riot police in Caracas.
A street protester tries to take a shield from the riot police in Caracas.C. Garcia Rawlins (REUTERS)

The talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition have ground to a halt after the latter walked out in protest over a lack of progress.

The negotiations began in April in response to student protests and the sheer magnitude of the political and socioeconomic crisis gripping the Latin American country.

On Tuesday, the executive secretary of the opposition bloc Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, declared a freeze on the talks and announced that MUD’s delegates will stop coming to the meetings with government officials. He said that talks have been stalled for some time.

If the government wants us to sit down again, let it give us some signs”

“We are not available for a situation in which all that is required is the appearance of being in talks,” said Aveledo at a press conference in Caracas, in which he also denounced the government’s “unbridled repression” of street protesters.

“If the government wants us to sit down again, let it give us some signs,” he said.

It is now up to the troika of foreign ministers from the regional organization Unasur, which is overseeing the talks in partnership with the Catholic Church, to try to revive a negotiation in which neither side has brought much to the table, with the ensuing meager results.

The frustration over the lack of progress was also evident in statements made on Tuesday by Colombia’s foreign minister, María Ángela Holguín, who is scheduled to fly to Caracas on Thursday in an effort to restart the talks, along with her counterparts from Brazil and Ecuador.

“We have told the Venezuelan government time and again that it should try to make progress so people will believe in dialogue in Venezuela,” she said.

This failure to find common ground will fuel the opposition’s skepticism

But the reality is that this failure to find common ground will fuel the skepticism felt from the beginning by much of the Venezuelan public. Meanwhile, the Nicolás Maduro administration seems mostly interested in the talks to improve its international image, appease the insurgency and, above all, win some time.

As for the MUD, the decision to walk out could also be an attempt to save face. From the beginning, some opposition sectors refused to sit down with the followers of the deceased Hugo Chávez. They accused MUD leaders of helping the government in its delay tactics, and even called them collaborators.

Now that these critics appear to have been right all along, and that the opposition’s internal fractures have been exposed, MUD leaders appear willing to change tack and heal those wounds.

In the meantime, the student protests are into their fifth month, with no sign of letting up. On the contrary, protesters seemed to have found renewed strength following Thursday’s arrest of hundreds of young students by security forces.

The government claims that Davos forum founder Klaus Schwab is leading a conspiracy against it

The student movement has announced a major march for Wednesday that will end at the headquarters of the General Attorney’s Office, in downtown Caracas.

Yet in all this time the government has continued to try to quell the protests with gas canisters and fires. The violence has already resulted in 42 dead and 700 injured, and reached the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Los Palos Grandes, where a national police officer was shot dead last week by a sniper.

The rioting has reached other cities, including Altamira and Santa Fe. Dozens of youths are awaiting trial for a variety of crimes.

The government’s influential number two, Diosdado Cabello, has been feeding the conspiracy theories and on Monday accused a dozen non-profits and politicians of participating in an attempt to overthrow the government. The alleged leader of the conspirators, according to Cabello, is Klaus Schwab, creator of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

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