Caracas, December 9th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan rightwing opposition coalition known as the MUD courted controversy this Tuesday after it refused to turn up for a third round of dialogue with the national government.
Earlier in the week the MUD reiterated a decision taken by its leadership in late November to boycott direct talks with the national government “until it fulfills the agreements outlined”.
The national dialogue, which is facilitated by the Vatican, the Union of South American Nations, and several former presidents including ex Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, began in October in a bid to ease tensions between opposing legislative and executive branches of government.
Nonetheless, after just a month of talks, the rightwing coalition stated that it would back out of direct negotiations with the government and meet solely with mediators. Its spokespeople say the national government has not kept to a series of agreed “commitments,” including the release of “political prisoners,” the opening of an international “humanitarian channel” for medicines, and setting a date for new presidential elections.
Government media has pointed out that none of these alleged agreements were mentioned in a five point work plan agreed by both sides and released to the public in mid-November.
“The national dialogue table is a space to reach agreements and achieve them. Until they are carried out, we will not sit down,” said MUD Secretary Jesus Chuo Torrealba on Wednesday.
The political group has been deeply divided over whether to take part in the dialogue, which was initially supported by three out of the coalition’s four major parties: Democratic Action, A New Era and Justice First. The coalition’s remaining principal party, the Popular Will, and a group of fifteen smaller parties vehemently opposed the talks, opting for a more combative stance against the government.
Despite the MUD’s about-turn, however, dialogue facilitators confirmed that they had met with both sides on Tuesday in a bid to smooth things over.
“We have faith and commitment to keep strengthening the dialogue,” stated Samper to press.
Likewise, Vatican delegate Claudio María Celli confirmed that mediators had presented a work proposal for continued dialogue to both sides.
“While there are positive results, there are also issues that must be resolved,” said the Archbishop.
But despite having praised Tuesday’s meeting as “successful, the MUD also hit out at several aspects of the new dialogue plan, and particularly its next proposed meeting date of January 13th, which it dismissed as “too late”.
“As a result of the double pressure, the facilitators made us a set of proposals to relaunch the dialogue WITH RESULTS,’ tweeted Torrealba.
“These proposals will be evaluated by the MUD and we will announce (our stance) to the country. But we reiterate: There will be no meeting with the regime until they follow through!” he added.
Since the dialogue began, the national government has made a series of concessions to the MUD, including the release of several of its activists from prison and agreeing to put pressure on the National Electoral Council to resolve the issue of three suspended MUD legislators. In return the MUD called off an unconstitutional attempt to put the president on “political trial” from within the opposition controlled legislature and wound-down a series of anti-government street protests.
Nonetheless, the government has accused the MUD of trying to sabotage the dialogue, and in particular since President Nicolas Maduro received a private letter from Vatican Secretary Pietro Parolin at the beginning of the week demanding that the national government cede to opposition demands.
The letter drew ire from the government which said that the Vatican had overstepped its mark in the talks.
Meanwhile MUD’s participation in the dialogue has also put further strain on the coalition, which has haemorrhaged support amongst its hardline anti-government base.
According to an article in El Nuevo Heraldo, the coalition has lost seven percentage points in popularity with Venezuelan voters since the end of October, dropping from 45% to 38%.
Torrealba’s leadership role at the coalition has also been called into question since dialogue began.
In a press conference on Friday, opposition legislator Omar Avila for the Unity Vision Venezuela party revealed that the “Group of 15” smaller parties were evaluating whether to officially solicit Torrealba’s resignation this coming Saturday.
“The G15 was always clear that we wouldn’t (participate in) dialogue because the conditions were not appropriate… The political trial (against Maduro) should never have been abandoned,” he told press.
So far the MUD has not confirmed whether it plans to attend the next round of dialogue with the government on January 13th.