VENEZUELA

Vatican-brokered talks in Venezuela “frozen,” says opposition

Congress slams President Maduro after US court finds wife’s nephews guilty of drug trafficking

Talks between Venezuela’s opposition and the socialist government to bridge the country’s deep political crisis broke down on Wednesday after officials failed to attend meetings to protest the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s decision to hold a special session to criticize President Nicolás Maduro, alleging he has ties to international drug trafficking.

The National Assembly is controlled by the opposition.
The National Assembly is controlled by the opposition.MIGUEL GUTIERREZ / EFE

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Last week, a US court found two nephews of the president’s wife guilty of charges that they tried to carry out a multi-million-dollar drug deal, allegedly to help their family stay in power.

Efrain Campo, 30, and Francisco Flores, 31, nephews of Cilia Flores, were found guilty on November 18 of planning to smuggle cocaine from the presidential hangar at the Caracas airport to Honduras for shipment to the United States. The minimum sentence is 10 years, but they face considerably more time, considering the large amount of the drug involved.

Maduro says the opposition is seeking a coup against him

The government reportedly told Spain’s former Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero, along with the former presidents of Panama and the Dominican Republic, Martín Torrijos and Leonel Fernández respectively, who are acting as mediators in the talks that began last month, that its representatives would not be attending talks due Wednesday, nor at the next scheduled meeting, on December 6.

“The government is using the debate as an excuse,” said two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, accusing authorities of not being committed to the talks, which are being overseen by the Vatican and have the backing of the Obama administration.

“The government has not complied with any of its promises. They promised to free political prisoners; there are more than 100 imprisoned. They promised a humanitarian channel; not a single medicine has come in,” he told reporters.

After the opposition used the social media to blame the government for “freezing” the talks, Maduro backtracked and said that he would continue negotiating, while acknowledging  “difficulties” in the talks.

“The dialogue is advancing ... and by January, February or March, it will be strengthened,” he told reporters.

The talks, which began last month, appeared to have led to the release of a handful of detained activists, but hopes for real rapprochement were always slim.

Dialogue has divided the diverse opposition coalition, with some activists feeling the government was duping the opposition in order to buy time.

At Tuesday’s session in the National Assembly, government representatives said that Campo and Flores were “set up” by the US government and then kidnapped, but the lower house overwhelmingly passed a motion to hold the debate about Maduro’s nephews.

Efraín Campo and Francisco Flores have already implicated the Venezuelan government. In recordings played at the trial, Flores boasted of having complete control of the presidential hangar at the Simón Bolívar airport outside Caracas. Campo was recorded claiming that government officials controlled a group of high-ranking military officers thought to be drug traffickers.

The opposition is divided over the talks

Following his arrest in Haiti, Campo allegedly inquired about cooperating with prosecutors and asked whether the US Drug Enforcement Administration would be interested in information about money laundering. He has since not given any additional indication of wanting to work with the government.

The situation in oil-rich Venezuela has worsened in recent months, with a recession leaving millions unable to find or afford food amid shortages and worsening inflation.

The opposition blames Maduro, who is unpopular, and has been vying to remove him via a recall referendum. The former bus driver and union leader, however, has said the opposition is seeking a coup against him and has vowed to serve out his full term, which ends in 2019.

English version by Nick Lyne

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