Obama Urges Dialogue in Deadlocked Venezuela, Sides with Opposition

The US president called on the government to “respect” the country’s National Assembly and to release what he described as “political prisoners”.

By RACHAEL BOOTHROYD ROJAS

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US President Barack Obama speaks alongside his Mexican and Canadian counterparts from the North American Leaders Congress on Canada (Associated Press).
US President Barack Obama speaks alongside his Mexican and Canadian counterparts from the North American Leaders Congress on Canada (Associated Press).
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Bogota, June 30th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - US President Barack Obama has weighed in on Venezuela’s political turmoil, calling on the government to release what he called “political prisoners” and to respect the country’s National Assembly. 

The head of state made the comments in a press conference from the North American Leaders Summit in Ottawa, Canada, where he also urged both political factions in Venezuela to participate in dialogue. He was accompanied by his Mexican and Canadian counterparts, Enrique Peña Nieto and Justin Trudeau.

“Together we call on the government and the opposition to engage in meaningful dialogue and we urge the Venezuelan government to respect the law and authority of the National Assembly,” commented the president. 

Venezuela’s political landscape has been deeply divided since the opposition coalition, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD), won an overwhelming majority at national legislative elections last December, in opposition to the country’s leftist executive. 

The election has led to deeply bitter exchanges between the two sides, with the national government charging its opponents with attempting to pass unconstitutional laws to unseat it, while the MUD legislative bloc has accused the executive of impeding its work.

The situation was compounded by a recall referendum campaign launched by the opposition against President Nicolas Maduro earlier this year, which could see the head of state removed from office by voters in a nation wide plebiscite on his mandate. 

“The democratic process should be respected, and that includes the legitimate efforts to hold a recall referendum consistent  with Venezuelan law,” said Obama. 

Approximately 100 people are also presently in jail after violent opposition-led rampages in 2014 led to the deaths of 43 people. The opposition calls those involved political prisoners and has made their release a priority since the December elections, however the government maintains that they are terrorists. 

At Wednesday’s press conference, Obama clearly came out in support of the opposition in the debate, demanding that all “political prisoners” in Venezuela “be released”. 

The internal stand-off boiled over into the international arena earlier this month, as the Organization of American States (OAS) discussed a proposal by its Secretary General, Luis Almagro, to apply the body’s democratic charter against Venezuela at its National Assembly’s own request.

Nonetheless member states’ reaction to the initiative has been lukewarm at best, with the majority of countries opting for a resolution to the stalemate through continued attempts at dialogue, and throwing their weight behind a delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) which arrived in Caracas to facilitate talks in May. 

Although the government has said that it's open to dialogue with the opposition, the MUD initially refused until several of its demands are met, including the release of “political prisoners” and the completion of its recall referendum, which could take approximately eight months or more. 

“They refused dialogue, to participate in a commission that would lead us to levels of reconciliation and national understanding, they refused the Truth Commission. Then I called on them for the National Economic Council and they declared that they wouldn’t participate,” said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday. 

“They refused and what they have done is to act nationally and internationally to damage the country,” he added. 

On Tuesday, National Assembly President, Ramos Allup, commented to press that that the MUD would partake in dialogue at the OAS, but refused talks at an upcoming visit to the Dominican Republic as requested by UNASUR. The refusal comes almost a month after an initial meeting between the two sides in the Caribbean country in May, which was widely interpreted as a step forward in resolving the deadlock.

“Who has said no to dialogue? We support it. We want to talk, but at the headquarters of the OAS in Venezuela, not in the Dominican Republic. Why does the government accept (former Spanish president) Zapatero’s mediation, approved by the OAS? Why does the government accept the mediation of the former ex presidents, approved by the OAS? Because it recognises there is a conflict in Venezuela,” said Allup. 

The legislative body’s head also went on to accuse the government of “running away” from the impending referendum. 

A poll carried out by Hinterlaces earlier in June revealed that 74% of Venezuelans back dialogue between the two sides. 

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