Maduro and Venezuelan Opposition Discuss Cooperation

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has urged opposition parties to work with his administration, and called for greater political tolerance.

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
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Maduro met with both opposition and GPP elected officials this week (CDO)
Maduro met with both opposition and GPP elected officials this week (CDO)

Merida, 19th December 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has urged opposition parties to work with his administration, and called for greater political tolerance.

During a meeting with opposition mayors and governors in Miraflores Palace on Wednesday, the president and opposition figures welcomed dialogue and a better working relationship.

“[This] meeting will seal a desire for peace. Peace above all, peace as a basis for coexistence... of different positions,” Maduro stated during the five hour meeting.

“I do not want any of you to become Chavistas. You all will have your political positions,” he stated.“Our differences will remain, but I urge you to work,” he said.

While calling for “a higher stage of tolerance”, Maduro also set recognition of his presidency, the Venezuelan constitution and the recently passed national development plan for 2013-2019 as preconditions for talks.

“Just as I recognise you, I demand that the strength of the Venezuelan revolutionary movement is recognised,” Maduro told opposition mayors and governors.

However, he also reminded opposition figures that they have would have an opportunity to petition for a recall referendum half way through his presidential term, though they would need to obtain around four million signatures.

“In 2016, you have the opportunity. If you want to get me out of the presidency, collect the signatures then,” Maduro said.

Opposition Speeches

During the meeting opposition figures welcomed discussion, but also criticised the government in speeches aired by state media.

“I applaud this meeting, because I know good things will come from this approach, I have said and I repeat I want to work in a joint manner with the three levels of government,” Maracaibo mayor Eveling Trejo de Rosales stated.

Similar statements were echoed by Lara state governor Henri Falcon.“I believe in this, I believe in dialogue, I believe in understanding...dialogue is political maturity,” Falcon stated during his address to the meeting.

Mayor of metropolitan Caracas Antonio Ledezma echoed Maduro's call for respect of the constitution, before blaming Maduro's government for recent shortages of some basic consumer goods such as milk and flour and this year's inflation of over 50%.

“We came here to talk about the most urgent needs of Venezuelans,” Ledezma said. He also accused the government of imprisoning political opponents, and establishing “parallel institutions” in opposition held states and municipalities.

Mayor of western San Cristobal Daniel Ceballos accused the government of being responsible for “xenophobia with neighbouring Colombia”, and the Maduro administration of “complacency”.

Maduro responded to the comment by questioning the opposition's response to a rumour that he was born in Colombia and ineligible for presidency. Earlier this year the rumour was endorsed by Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles.

Capriles himself refused to join other opposition figures at the meeting. The former presidential candidate stated earlier this week that he wouldn't be attending as he hadn't “officially received any invitation from the government”, according to El Nacional. He later told reporters that he was officially invited to the meeting on Tuesday, but turned down the offer, stating the event “was conceived from the beginning as a gathering of mayors”.

“This is a meeting for mayors and I feel represented by the mayors that will go there with a firm position,” he said.

Capriles also criticised Maduro's preconditions, though he said he didn't oppose dialogue with the government. “I agree and I have said on other occasions that there must be dialogue, the parties have to talk, but the parties have to talk with the exclusive condition of respect for the constitution, there can be no conditions other than to respect the constitution,” he stated.

Following the 8 December municipal elections Capriles called for “unity” and “dialogue”, though he accused the government of running “abusive” campaigns.

 Maduro stated the meeting had been “a success for all of Venezuela”.

Gasoline Debate

During Wednesday's meeting Maduro also reiterated calls from his vice-president Jorge Arreaza to launch a national discussion of Venezuela's gasoline subsidies. Venezuela currently has the world's lowest petrol prices due to government subsidised prices.

“We should have the advantage of paying special prices for hydrocarbons relative to the international price, but it has to be an advantage, not a disadvantage,” Maduro said. “It becomes a disadvantage when people tip more than the price they pay,” he stated.

The president said he envisaged a gradual increase in petrol prices over a three year period. The additional funds received by state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) would be devoted to social programs and infrastructure projects. However, Maduro said he was in “no rush” to make any changes to gasoline subsidies.

“The decision will be taken when the time is right,” he stated.

Maduro Meets with GPP Officials

Wednesday's meeting between Maduro and opposition elected officials followed talks on Monday between the president and the 255 recently elected mayors, 261 councilors and National Assembly (AN) legislators aligned with the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP). The GPP coalition backs Maduro.

During the meeting, the coalition members discussed the future of Maduro's street government, along with other ways to promote grassroots participation.

“Those who ran for mayor must know that they need to start a revolution with the people,” head of the AN Diosdado Cabello stated.

“If we engage with the people, it will take hundreds of years for the opposition to return [to power],” he said.

Cabello also called on the GPP to “continue” winning over the middle class. He stated that middle class Venezuelans aren't “enemies” of the revolution. “Many of them are confused,” Cabello said, referring to middle class Venezuelans who back the opposition.

A seven point plan for the future of the street government was also outlined during Monday's talks. The plan calls for the continuation of the “economic offensive”, the deepening of Barrio Nuevo, Barrio Tricolor and the housing mission, improved public safety through the launch of a new stage of the “Secure Homeland” plan in 2014, promotion of the Barrio Adentro mission, improved drinking water, and refocussed efforts to support the commune movement and develop infrastructure.

Maduro also announced the creation of a new national body to coordinate the street government nationwide. “An organised council, with a management team of governors, mayors and councilors, who will meet on a permanent basis and make a plan,” Maduro stated.