Venezuelan Opposition Fractures over Pope-Sponsored Dialogue Initiative


Top MUD leaders slammed the Pope’s overture, which they say they found out about on TV.

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MUD General Secretary Jesus Torrealaba, congressman Julio Borges, and other opposition politicians pose with Vatican envoy monsignor Emil Paul. (@ChuoTorrealba).
MUD General Secretary Jesus Torrealaba, congressman Julio Borges, and other opposition politicians pose with Vatican envoy monsignor Emil Paul. (@ChuoTorrealba).
By Lucas Koerner
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Caracas, October 25, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, splintered in two on Monday in response to a proposal for Vatican-mediated talks with the Maduro government. 

MUD Secretary General Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba welcomed the offer by Pope Francis to facilitate a new round of dialogue with the Venezuelan government in Margarita on October 30.

“These are very tense moments for the country, very rough,” he said.

“In the midst of a situation like this, the presence of a personal envoy of Pope Francis is comfort for all Venezuelans," he added. 

Torrealaba celebrated as a “triumph” the inclusion of the Vatican, which the MUD has been demanding for months.

Last month, Pope Francis confirmed his participation in the mediation team at the request of the general secretary of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Ernesto Samper.

The new talks will be mediated by the nuncio of Buenos Aires, Emil Paul Tscherrig, as well as the ex-presidents of Spain, Dominican Republic, and Panama– Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, Leonel Fernandez, and Martin Torrijos– who participated in the previous round of UNASUR-sponsored dialogue in May.

The first meeting was held Monday afternoon in Caracas between the MUD– represented by Torrealba and the opposition lawmakers Julio Borges, Enrique Márquez, and Luis Florido– and government spokesmen, including congressman Elías Jaua, Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez, and former OAS ambassador Roy Chaderton.

Divisions over dialogue 

The overture was, however, met with blanket rejection by leaders of major opposition parties who claimed to have found out about the scheduled talks on television. 

“AD [Democratic Action] said that if other parties were going to the dialogue promoted by the Vatican we would attend. But since we all found out on TV, we’re not going either,” tweeted National Assembly President and AD General Secretary Henry Ramos Allup.

This past Sunday, Ramos Allup led the opposition-majority parliament in an impeachment attempt against President Maduro under the pretext of an alleged “rupture of the constitutional order”. The move came in response to the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) postponement Thursday of recall referendum preparations pending investigations into 53,658 fraudulent signatures collected by the opposition earlier this year.

Many MUD spokespeople pointed to the latest CNE decision in justifying their dismissal of dialogue.

“[Dialogue] is not possible after [the CNE] having suspended the recall and robbed the people of their right to express themselves,” declared jailed hard right opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez via his official Twitter account.

The leader of 2014’s violent anti-government protests made the statement after receiving an authorized visit from former Panamanian president Martin Torrijos, which has been widely seen as a gesture of good will on the part of the Maduro government

Lopez’s hardline stance was echoed by his lieutenant, Popular Will party National Coordinator Freddy Guevara, who likewise rejected the talks, but expressed hope that the Vatican would “help the government…guarantee a peaceful transition”.

The proposal was even spurned by the more moderate wing of the Venezuelan opposition, led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. 

“Of course we are going to adhere to a call from the Church [but] in Venezuela no dialogue has been initiated,” the Miranda governor stated. “These devils are trying to use the good faith of the Pope to buy time.” 

As one of the main proponents of the recall referendum, Capriles made calls for mass protests and military intervention to “enforce the constitution” following the CNE’s postponement of the next phase of opposition signature collection.

Long time Christian Democratic party COPEI also voiced its disapproval of the talks, which it lambasted as a “delay” tactic.

“The dialogue as an instrument to delay the restitution of democracy in our country is unacceptable,” affirmed the party’s secretary general, Rogelio Diaz.

United Socialist Party Vice-President Diosdado Cabello, for his part, lashed out at MUD’s vacillations, which he attributed to opposition leaders’ “ego and caprice”.

“After the opposition said yes for the Vatican to be part of the process, now they don’t want to participate in the dialogue,” he stated on his radio show Dando y Dando transmitted by Venezuelan National Radio. 

“This is an indication of a divided opposition leadership… [T]hey have no political direction and they themselves stab each other in the back,” he concluded.

MUD backpedals, braces for damage control

Torrealba responded to the flood of criticism on Tuesday morning, defending his decision to participate in the dialogue.

“The situation is very delicate. Here an error won’t cost votes nor [political] posts but lives. We must act with extreme responsibility,” he explained in a video released to Twitter via Periscope.

However, the MUD general secretary appeared to backtrack, conceding to his critics that “there are no conditions” for dialogue with the government, while at the same time endorsing the Vatican-backed talks.

“In these dramatic circumstances [the Pope’s envoy] arrives and we have to receive him, not because there are conditions for dialogue nor because there’s going to be,” he continued.

In a communiqué published by the MUD on its official website, the coalition qualified its support for the talks as “one more front of our struggle for the restitution of the constitutional order and democracy in Venezuela.”

The coalition vowed to stand behind the National Assembly’s impeachment bid against President Maduro, which has widely been denounced as a Brazil-style parliamentary coup attempt.

Likewise, the MUD voiced its support for Wednesday’s national protests called the “Takeover of Venezuela”, which authorities warn could entail anti-government violence.

The tension between dialogue and violence came to a head Monday morning when the CNE’s offices in Lara state came under Molotov attack just as government and opposition spokespeople prepared to welcome the Vatican envoy.

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