Caracas, September 27, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s right-wing opposition announced Tuesday that its representatives would not attend the upcoming round of exploratory talks to be held in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.
In an open letter to Dominican President Danilo Medina published on the website of the main anti-government coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), opposition leaders stated that “propitious conditions did not exist (for them) to attend” the meeting.
In particular, the opposition justified its boycott by accusing the government of failing to release so-called “political prisoners”, despite there being no mutual agreement in this respect. The Nicolas Maduro administration, for its part, maintains its right to prosecute opposition militants for their involvement in violent anti-government protests, both in 2014 and earlier this year.
The MUD likewise pointed to alleged irregularities in preparations for October 15 gubernatorial elections, citing the CNE's decision to use electoral registers from the National Constituent Assembly [ANC] elections on July 30, which the coalition says are not up to date. The MUD has also complained about the timetable for substituting candidates.
In spite of threats to boycott the regional elections over unsubstantiated allegations of fraud against the country’s elections body, the MUD has actively cooperated with electoral authorities in the preliminary auditing process, certifying last week the reliability of voting machines and software.
Additionally, the coalition explained its non-attendance by claiming that the government has yet to select its third “friend country” as part of the Group of Friend Guarantor Countries charged with mediating the dialogue process.
Despite being published on the MUD’s official website, the letter was, however, only signed by the four largest parties of the coalition, including Democratic Action, A New Era, First Justice, and Popular Will.
Tuesday’s MUD boycott echoes the opposition’s walkout from a previous round of Vatican-mediated talks in November 2016. At the time, the MUD accused the government of violating agreements, while the Maduro administration denounced the opposition for insisting on maximalist demands that were never part of the negotiated framework.
Government: MUD “following orders” from abroad
Responding to the opposition no-show, National Constituent Assembly President Delcy Rodríguez accused the MUD of “following orders” from the “transnational right-wing”, which she said is bent on “damaging the dialogue process”.
“We say that, on the instructions of our head of state, we will raise and continue to raise the banners of dialogue and peace for Venezuela, there is no other path for our homeland,” she stated.
The past week has seen a ratcheting up of foreign pressure on Caracas with US President Donald Trump adding top Venezuelan officials to his infamous travel ban list Sunday and Canada imposing sanctions for the first time Friday.
On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his threats against Venezuela, urging the European Union to likewise sanction the South American country.
Amid the intensifying international standoff, a number of regional governments together with former Spanish President Jose Luis Zapatero have sought to relaunch dialogue between the Maduro administration and the opposition.
The MUD has defended its participation in the dialogue as part a broader “strategy” to oust the elected “regime of Nicolas Maduro”, which includes “pressure in the streets, political negotiation, international pressure and electoral participation”.
Fresh barricades in eastern Caracas
The MUD’s announced boycott came one day after a small group of masked opposition militants took to the streets of the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao in renewed anti-government roadblocks.
Calling themselves “the Resistance”, the group blocked the principal Francisco de Miranda Avenue with piles of burning trash and vandalized public property, as captured on video.
Speaking to journalists, one gas mask-clad youth blasted the MUD leadership for participating in dialogue, calling for new anti-government protests.
“We are taking to the streets because the shit politicians betrayed us… now they are negotiating with Nicolas Maduro, that’s not the way,” he told the camera.
At least 126 people lost their lives in a wave of anti-government unrest aimed at removing the Maduro government between April and the end of July. Though the violence has subsided since the July 30 ANC elections, the opposition has grown increasingly divided over the strategy going forward.
While the main opposition parties have called off protests and agreed to participate in regional elections brought forward by the ANC last month, more radical anti-government sectors have branded the move a betrayal and called for retaking the streets.
In response to Monday’s protest, Venezuela’s Supreme Court issued a statement exhorting Chacao Mayor Gustavo Duque to comply with a May ruling ordering a string of opposition-controlled municipalities to remove anti-government roadblocks.
Duque’s predecessor, Ramón Muchacho, was sentenced in August to fifteen months jail time for failing to clear barricades in his municipality, which was one of the epicenters of anti-government violence. Muchacho has fled to the United States where he has called US military intervention in Venezuela “inevitable”.