Caracas, May 30, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Top-level representatives of the Maduro government held indirect talks with the country’s right-wing opposition in Punta Cana Friday under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
The meeting was facilitated by a UNASUR commission comprised of ex-Spanish president Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, former Dominican head of state Leonel Fernandez, and as well as ex-Panamanian president Martin Torrijos, who met separately with both parties with the aim of “defining an agenda of dialogue going forward”.
On the government side was Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, El Libertador Mayor and PSUV leader Jorge Rodriguez, as well as socialist lawmaker and former vice-president Elias Jaua. The opposition was represented by Carlos Vecchio of the Popular Will party, Luis Aquiles of Democratic Action, Alfonoso Marquina of First Justice, and Timoteo Zambrano of A New Time party.
The talks come amid rising tension between the Maduro government and the right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, over the convening of a recall referendum, which has seen the latter convoke violent protests in a bid to accelerate the stringent series of legal procedures.
UNASUR hailed the talks as a step forward in resolving the South American country’s heated political standoff.
“The ex-presidents confirm that there exists a will to dialogue on the part of both [the government and the opposition], for which reason it has been proposed to continue exploring new contacts in the upcoming dates with the object of agreeing to an agenda that fulfills the requirements of both parties,” the general secretariat of the regional bloc said in a statement.
The initiative was also won praise from US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as the government of Mexico.
In a phone call with former Spanish head of state Jose Zapatero, Kerry “reiterated that the United States supports political dialogue and peaceful, democratic solutions and reaffirmed that any U.S. involvement would only be in support of an agreed-upon Venezuelan solution consistent with constitutional principles,” according to an official statement.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry likewise saluted the talks, calling for “genuine and inclusive dialogue in adherence with the rule of law and democracy”.
The MUD, for its part, emphasized that no meeting had taken place with the government and that any future talks would be contingent on the fulfillment of four “indispensable” demands: the activation of the recall referendum process, the release of “political prisoners” and the return of “exiles”, a solution to the “humanitarian crisis”, and “respect” for the legislation passed by the National Assembly.
Miranda Governor and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles also opened fire at the talks, affirming that dialogue would be impossible without a “date for the recall [referendum] this year”.
Capriles and other opposition leaders have accused Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) of stalling in the validation of the signatures of 1% of the electorate necessary to begin the recall process.
Chavista spokespeople have, however, blamed the MUD for delaying in beginning the recall process, which the right-wing coalition initiated in April in lieu of January when the mechanism became constitutionally available.
In February, the opposition unveiled a four-pronged strategy for ousting Maduro, which included street mobilizations to force the president’s resignation, a constitutional amendment shortening the presidential term, a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution as well as a recall referendum.
According to experts, a recall referendum will require 208 days to be convened and 238 days for new presidential elections to be held in the event of a successful recall vote, raising question marks over whether the poll can be held this year.
If the referendum is not held before the close of this year, a successful recall will not trigger new presidential elections, leaving the vice-president to serve out the rest of the presidential term.
The Venezuelan government has yet to respond to the preconditions for dialogue laid out by the opposition.