Delegates from Venezuela's government and opposition are resuming talks in the Dominican Republic aimed at promoting peace and unity following a brief hiatus over the festive period.
As representatives arrived in Santo Domingo, Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly (ANC) President Delcy Rodriguez paid tribute to 31-year-old assemblyman Tomas Lucena, who was gunned down by assassins Wednesday at the wheel of his car.
"The departure of the constituent Tomas Lucena gives us the strength to continue defending Venezuela, to defend peace. Nothing will make us depart from that path!" she tweeted.
The ongoing dialogue, which is restarting with a working meeting today and is due to continue Friday, is intended to help develop Venezuela's economy and maintain peace after opposition forces broke out into protest last April, leaving more than 100 people dead.
Dominican Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas, one of the principal mediators, said: "Both sides have demonstrated a strong commitment to dialogue," noting that he hopes they can walk away on January 12 with a "definitive agreement" for reconciliation.
The Dominican government will continue to help the two sides find a "stable, peaceful and democratic solution that benefits the Venezuelan people," Vargas continued.
The Venezuelan government is requesting the opposition accept the legality of the ANC, which went into session August 2017. They also want opposition forces and constituents to help lift sanctions on the country enforced by the US government.
The opposition wants the government of President Nicolas Maduro to recognize several of its parties within the ANC, despite not having participated in last October's nationwide municipal elections. It also wants the government to open the country to "humanitarian aid."
Hosted by President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina, the initial December 1 and 2 negotiations were a watershed moment in the Venezuela's recent political history. President Maduro had called for peace talks more than 300 times since he took office in 2013.
After the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela swept the municipal elections in October, the opposition finally agreed to negotiate.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the foreign ministers of Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are all helping broker the talks.
The Venezuelan government has been the subject of aggressive comments by US politicians regarding the talks. Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that the US would not lift its sanctions on Venezuela, to which ANC President Delcy Rodriguez replied: "Mister @marcorubio seeks, through his inappropriate, rude and vulgar gestures, to make the dialogue finish to facilitate the violent way to the opposition."
The opposition is also calling for the release of so-called "political prisoners." Maduro released 44 prisoners in late December as a result of the talks. Vargas praised the move, saying it promoted peace and dialogue.
In early December, Dominican President Danilo Medina said the government and opposition "declare that there has been significant progress in the search for an agreement that peacefully resolves the situation in Venezuela." Medina is not present for the current round of talks.
Also not on hand is former lead opposition negotiator Timoteo Zambrano, Zambrano, a legislator, who stepped down earlier this week after he was apparently "censured" by opposition parties for "collaborating" with the government.
"I've been censured by some opposition delegates at the Dominican Republic negotiations... for this reason, I'm stepping down from my post," he told reporters.