UNASUR Peace Talks Spark Internal Divides Within Venezuelan Opposition

 Today in Caracas a group of eight ambassadors from member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met with Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and leading politicians belonging to the opposition.

By Z.C. Dutka
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Nicolás Maduro arriving at the Casa Amarilla in Caracas, where UNASUR hosted talks with the president and opposition leaders this afternoon. (Foto @DRodriguezMinCI)
Nicolás Maduro arriving at the Casa Amarilla in Caracas, where UNASUR hosted talks with the president and opposition leaders this afternoon. (Foto @DRodriguezMinCI)

Santa Elena de Uairén, April 8th 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)-- Today in Caracas a group of eight ambassadors from member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met with Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and leading politicians belonging to the opposition. The delegation was sent to host a preliminary meeting meant to forge a path for ongoing dialogue between the two conflicting sectors, in an effort to end 8 weeks of violent protest that have led to 39 deaths.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which encompasses 12 oppositional parties, has refused all previous invitations to dialogue by the Venezuelan government. Yesterday evening the MUD met with the UNASUR delegates to present a list of demands to be met in order for peace talks to proceed.

At the end of March, UNASUR sent a smaller commission to make an assessment of the situation in Venezuela. They met with student protestors from both political spheres, leading Venezuelan businessmen, representatives of the Catholic church and some government officials, concluding that a mediator was needed in further negotiation, and emphatically condemning “any intent to rupture constitutional order” in Venezuela.

The second commission, which arrived yesterday, included; Héctor Timerman, from Argentina; Luiz Figueiredo, Brazil; David Choquehuanca, Bolivia; María Ángela Holguín, Colombia; Heraldo Muñoz, Chile; Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador; Luis Almagro, Uruguay; and Winston Lackin from Surinam.

A Call to Dialogue

Since the start of the protests in February, Maduro has called upon the opposition to join him in “Peace Conferences” around the country. Most opposition leaders refused point-blank to participate as long as certain conditions were not met. Some went so far as to say the meetings were made pointless by the government’s illegitimacy.

Governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles Radonski said at the time, “This is a dying government. I’m not going to be like the orchestra on the Titanic."

However, international concern has only grown since that time, resulting in repeated calls for dialogue from the Organization of American States (OAS) and other diplomatic blocs.

The arrival of UNASUR was well received by the international community. The European Union expressed confidence in the organization’s ability to mediate, and U.S. vice president John Kerry concurred this morning his support for the delegation’s motives.

Maduro personally welcomed the commission’s arrival and reported, “We had an abundant conversation – they proposed we meet with a delegation of the opposition, and well, I accepted, as I myself have been convoking for eight weeks a political dialogue for peace and democracy.” He expressed his hope that the MUD would agree to sit and talk, and not “back out.”

Internal Conflict

Split reactions to the idea of dialogue hinted at internal discord among the MUD parties. This is not surprising, considering the MUD encompasses far-right groups like Leopoldo Lopez’s Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) party, center-right groups such as Radonski’s Justice First (Primero Justicia) party, and a wide range of voices in between.

By general consensus, most MUD politicians have encouraged students to take to the streets to force the “exit” of the democratically elected president Maduro. Extremists, such as Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, regularly refer to the government as a dictatorship and believe certain violence is justified to defend oneself from the “regime.” Moderates, such as Radonski, actively support the protests but condemn the vandalism that has characterized them since their start.

Caracas metropolitan mayor Antonio Ledezma, who leads the MUD’s hardline right-wing party “Fearless People’s Alliance,” tweeted yesterday upon UNASUR’s arrival; “Maduro is bent on taking his picture with the opposition in front of [presidential palace] Miraflores [in order] to freeze the protests. [But] the unity in the street is unbreakable!”

Maria Corina Machado also tweeted her disgust at the prospect of negotiation; “I will write here what the regime is trying to keep the media from saying: 1. We will not accept a dialogue to stabilize the dictatorship.”

Violent protestors themselves have shown outrage at the notion of dialogue. The MUD Wikipedia page was temporarily edited this evening to summarize the opposition coalition as a group of “blood traitors” who “bow down to the dictatorship that is killing our students.”

MUD Executive Secretary, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, said upon arriving at the meeting this afternoon that it was merely an experiment; an “investigative meeting that we came to witness, since we were invited by South American diplomats, to see if there are conditions in which dialogue can occur.”

Conditions and Proposals

The conditions necessary for dialogue to occur were made clear in a document drawn up by the MUD and presented before UNASUR in a private meeting, yesterday evening.

“We are willing to have a true dialogue, with a clear agenda, and equal conditions, whose first meeting may be broadcasted live on national television and radio,” the document reads.

Among their list were demands for;

  • “A trustworthy third party, national or international, who can guarantee, facilitate, and if necessary, mediate.” (They noted the Vatican as their preferred third party).
  • A commission of independent truth and information, a law of amnesty for those who they consider to be political prisoners, a dismissal of the charges, and a “return of the exiled.”
  • The demobilization and disarming of the “internationally verified paramilitary groups known as colectivos,” who allegedly support the Maduro government.

Governor Radonski attended the private meeting to present the document but chose not to attend the meeting with president Nicolás Maduro today. Only three representatives of the MUD were in attendance; Secretary Aveledo, Lara state governor Henri Falcón and “A New Era” party leader Omar Barboza.

The Venezuelan president has said he will accept any conditions that UNASUR deems appropriate, and has otherwise focused his efforts planning what subjects may be discussed if the opposition should choose to partake.

“I am going to put on the table central items that merit all of Venezuela working together,” he said yesterday. These items include two proposals; the Plan of National Pacification, meant to confront the country’s high crime rates and the Plan of Investment and Economic Development, meant to reconcile parallel efforts “towards the same objective of economic growth, the control of inflation and the adequate supply [of basic goods].”

Maduro also intends to discuss ways of healing the open wounds that the protest-related deaths and violence have inflicted upon Venezuelan society. He believes the oppositional protests has caused a serious gap between the majority who voted for him and opposition supporters and that it subsequently created a climate of social instability nationwide.

“They have tried to cultivate a policy of intolerance and hate. They have even tried to stigmatize the idea of what a collective is. That gives me great sadness, and behind it there are Miami dollars and people who don’t love this country.”

In the past week however, fresh acts of violence have caused even greater chasms between opposing social sectors. On Sunday the bodies of two businessmen and close friends of Leopoldo Lopez were found dead in a central Caracas park. Investigators say they were robbed and murdered while bike riding on Saturday. Yesterday a chief journalist, Nairobi Pinto, of the TV channel Globovision was kidnapped by masked men in front of her Caracas apartment; her whereabouts are unknown. And on Wednesday a two-year old girl died of an asthma attack while her mother begged protestors to let their car through a barricade.

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