Caracas, October 31, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Spokespersons for the Venezuelan government and opposition met in Caracas Sunday evening for the first round of Vatican-mediated talks aimed at resolving the country’s tense political standoff.
Last month, Pope Francis agreed to a request by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to facilitate dialogue efforts between the Maduro government and the right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD. The first preliminary session took place on October 24 following the arrival of a Vatican mediation team headed by Buenos Aires nuncio Emil Paul Tscherrig.
President Nicolas Maduro inaugurated the meeting, which was chaired by Vatican envoy Claudio Maria Celis, UNASUR General Secretary Ernesto Samper, as well as the former presidents of Spain, Dominican Republic and Panama– Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, Leonel Fernandez, and Martin Torrijos.
“As president and leader of the revolutionary movement, I reiterate my absolute commitment to dialogue. I extend my hand to the MUD,” the head of state from the Alejandro Otero Art Museum in southern Caracas.
“It’s not an easy process, but we come ready to listen and be heard, to find points in common,” he added.
After five hours of deliberation, both sides reached a consensus regarding an agenda for dialogue going forward. They agreed to create four committees dedicated to different topics pertinent to the country’s polarized conflict.
The first committee will be chaired by Jose Rodriguez Zapatero and address the issues of; respect for national sovereignty, rule of law, and peace. The Vatican will coordinate the second committee concerning truth, justice, human rights, reparations for victims, and reconciliation.
Leonel Fernandez will head the third committee dedicated to finding solutions to Venezuela’s acute social and economic difficulties, including shortages of food and medicines. The last committee will be facilitated by Martin Torrijos and will discuss electoral timetables and respect for the electoral process.
Together these committees will debate a number of points of contention, including the case of three Amazonas lawmakers accused of electoral fraud, the situation of opposition members serving prison sentences, conflict between different branches of government, among other issues.
In addition, both parties agreed to tone down their hostile rhetoric in a bid to deescalate tensions.
“With the purpose of maintaining and preserving a climate of peace and harmony, the government and the opposition pledge to reduce the aggressive tone of the language used in political debate,” reads the text of the official document presented by Ernesto Samper and monsignor Claudio Maria Celis.
Opposition remains divided
Despite being backed by MUD General Secretary Jesus Torrealba, talks were attended by representatives of only four parties of the opposition coalition, including Luis Aquiles Moreno of Democratic Action, Carlos Ocariz of First Justice, Henri Falcon of Progressive Advance, and Timoteo Zambrano of A New Time.
Leaders from First Justice and Democratic Action initially rejected the invitation to dialogue with the national government, claiming that they found out about last week’s preliminary meeting on television.
Both parties later joined the initiative, which Torrealba has insisted represents “one more terrain of struggle” in addition to the MUD’s ongoing street mobilizations and the opposition-led National Assembly’s somewhat ambiguous efforts to “determine the political responsibility” of President Maduro for the current crisis.
For its part, US State Department, praised the dialogue, announcing that it had dispatched Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon to Caracas to aid in mediation efforts.
“His visit will underscore our support for the ongoing dialogue process, and our interest in the well-being of the Venezuelan people.”
Sunday’s talks were, however, boycotted by the hard right-wing Popular Will party as well as 15 other smaller parties of the coalition, who claimed that “there are no conditions for dialogue” with the Maduro government.
In an official statement on its website rejecting the dialogue, the party urged its supporters to take part in a “historic” march on Miraflores presidential palace this coming Thursday.
The Venezuelan opposition has not marched on Miraflores since April 11, 2002 when an anti-government mobilization was intentionally diverted towards the seat of government as part of a briefly successful coup attempt that ousted President Hugo Chávez for 47 hours.
Despite initially endorsing the march, Torrealba nevertheless appeared to cast doubt on the announced route, suggesting that it could be subject to change depending on the outcome of negotiations.
“We’ll see what happens with the march…we’ll evaluate if there is a gesture that deserves to be considered in order to reorient the street strategy, we’ll see,” he stated.
In particular, the MUD spokesman demanded “concrete, immediate gestures in the coming days”, including the release of so-called “political prisoners”.
The government has, for its part, condemned as “irresponsible” the opposition’s planned march on the presidential palace.
“The opposition mobilization to Miraflores palace is an act of political responsibility. We revolutionaries would never call for a march to the Plaza Altamira, for example,” declared socialist congressman Elias Jaua, referring to the Venezuelan opposition stronghold of Chacao in eastern Caracas.
“Right-wing leaders need to moderate their discourse,” he added.
According to a recent survey by independent polling firm Hinterlaces, 82 percent of Venezuelans support the dialogue efforts. 56 percent of the population think the talks should be focused on resolving the nation’s deep economic difficulties, while 39 percent highlight the recall referendum against President Maduro as the top priority.
The next round of talks is scheduled for November 11.