Bogota, September 13 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Tentative talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition began this Wednesday evening in the Dominican Republic, in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the country's ongoing political conflict.
The surprise negotiations were announced by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday, when the head of state confirmed that he had accepted an invitation from former Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Dominican Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas to begin renewed dialogue efforts.
“We must be prudent so that this opportunity yields successful results for dialogue for the peace and sovereignty of Venezuela,” said the president on national television.
The talks began at 5pm local time and ended just before 10pm. The Maduro administration was represented by Libertador Mayor Jorge Rodriguez, President of the National Constituent Assembly Delcy Rodriguez and diplomat Roy Chaderton. For its part, the opposition was represented by National Assembly President Julio Borges, leader of the New Era party Manuel Rosales, Vicente Díaz, Luis Florido, Timoteo Zambrano, and Eudoro González, reported TeleSur correspondent Madelein Garcia.
Jorge Rodriguez said prior to the meeting that he believed a resolution to “critical points between the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro” was very close.
“We are in a prime moment of dialogue,” he added.
Nonetheless, Dominican President Danilo Medina was more cautious in his assessment of the situation following Wednesday’s meeting.
“The only thing we can say is that we listened to both sides express themselves, they gave their points of view on the situation in Venezuela… We are in a process of exploration for an agenda that can lead to a definitive negotiation of the crisis,” he said.
The diplomatic initiative has also been praised by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who urged both sides to "seize this opportunity".
Nonetheless, the opposition coalition the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has denied that it has agreed to dialogue. In an official statement, the group said that although it would send a delegation to the meeting, it would not contemplate official dialogue with the government until it agreed to meet several of its demands. These include the release of what the coalition labels “political prisoners” and an official timetable for general elections, due to be held in 2018.
“The invitation of President Danilo Medina does NOT represent the beginning of formal dialogue with the government. The time for symbolic gestures is over,” reads the statement.
“To enter into serious negotiations, we demand immediate actions that show true willingness to resolve national problems and not to buy time,” it continued.
Attempted talks facilitated by the Vatican, Zapatero and other leading international political figures turned sour late last year without reaching any kind of consensus. Dialogue between the two sides stalled after the MUD presented the government with a similar set of demands, and later accused the Maduro administration of failing to keep to agreements. The government in turn accused the opposition of lying and denied having reached any kind of accord with the coalition as part of the talks.
Wednesday’s attempted dialogue follows four months of deadly violence in the South American country, where anti-government protests between April and the beginning of August led to at least 126 deaths.
Though the government proposed the convening of a National Constituent Assembly to resolve the stand-off, the MUD boycotted elections to choose delegates to the body on the grounds that the initiative was “unconstitutional”.
The national government has accused the MUD of trying to oust Venezuela’s elected president by force.