Venezuelan Opposition Abandons Talks in Dominican Republic, Dismisses Deal with Gov't

At the last minute, the opposition refused to sign an agreement that was the result of almost two years of dialogue.

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas

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ominican Republic President Danilo Medina [middle] explained the talks had broken down at a press conference Wednesday
Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina [middle] explained the talks had broken down at a press conference Wednesday. (EFE)
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Merseyside, United Kingdom, February 8, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition collapsed Tuesday, after opposition representatives refused to sign an official political agreement outlining a framework for democratic coexistence between the two warring political forces. 

In a press conference Wednesday, the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, whose government has been playing a key role in the dialogue, reported that the talks were now in a state of “indefinite recess”. 

“The agreement could not be reached, but the Dominican Republic is still available for when the two parties want to meet again,” said the president.

Medina was accompanied by his foreign minister, Miguel Vargas, and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has also been facilitating the talks. The president explained that while the government had attended Tuesday’s meeting with the intention of “signing a definitive agreement”, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition on the other hand, “had not understood that it was obliged to sign that agreement yesterday."

“It [the opposition] asked for more time to see the document that had been worked through with both parties, and which was in great measure based on the content of the act of agreed advancements for which I was responsible when they left [the DR] on January 31,” commented Medina.

The final document was the result of almost two years of on-off internationally mediated dialogue between the two groups and was aimed at breaking the political standoff between the opposition-controlled National Assembly and the leftist executive, as well as bringing the two sides together to solve the country’s ongoing deep economic crisis. 

Despite the opposition having walked out on talks on two previous occasions, Tuesday’s deal is the closest that both sides have come to reaching an agreement since late-2016, with the Venezuelan press reporting that both sides were on the cusp of an agreement in recent weeks. 

According to a version of the document circulated by Venezuelan news agencies, the agreement would have obliged the government to accept an electoral observation team from the United Nations in presidential elections later this year – something it has resisted for a number of years on the grounds of national sovereignty. 

On the other hand, the opposition would have had to work with the government in order to get unilateral sanctions currently imposed on Venezuela withdrawn by the United States, Canada, and the European Union.

Since reneging on the deal, the opposition coalition has released an alternative document from December 2 which it says was “unanimously” supported by accompanying foreign ministers from Bolivia, Nicaragua, San Vincent, Mexico and Chile at the time – though it has consistently denied that an agreement had been reached over the past three months. 

The opposition also accused the government of having unilaterally changed the document presented Tuesday, despite it being in Medina’s custody and testimonies from facilitators stating that it had been “worked on by both parties”. 

“If this document [from December 2] had been respected, then today we would have an agreement,” tweeted the MUD. 

The document posted on the opposition’s website demands a newly designated National Electoral Council, and the liberation of those whom they term “political prisoners”, including politician Leopoldo Lopez, who was famously tried and sentenced in 2015 for his role in calling for violent protests to force the government from power the year before. The opposition also demands that the state cease all radio and television communications during the electoral campaign. 

For its part, the Venezuelan government has blamed the United States for the opposition’s failure to commit to a peace deal, claiming that the Trump administration is leaning on the MUD to push for regime change in the country. Venezuela's communications minister and government representative in the talks, Jorge Rodriguez, told teleSUR news that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called opposition spokesperson and First Justice party leader Julio Borges to convince him to call off the deal.

“Receiving instructions from the imperial proconsul, [Julio Borges] refused to confirm and ascribe to what we came to do, which was to sign the Agreement of Democratic Coexistence for Venezuela,” Rodriguez told press. 

The US has already indicated that it will not recognise the results of upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela, which electoral authorities confirmed Wednesday would take place on April 22. 

According to comments from Medina, the government had initially wanted to hold presidential elections in March and the opposition in June, but both had settled on April 22 as a compromise through negotiations. Nonetheless, Julio Borges has accused the government of imposing its own date for the elections following the National Electoral Council’s announcement Wednesday. 

“We summon the government to not make the absurd error of unilaterally calling elections. Nicolas Maduro is not the boss of democracy in Venezuela, Venezuelans are and they must be respected,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Medina reported that the opposition had since passed a document to the government as a counter-proposal, but that Maduro stated his government would only sign the original agreement that “had been worked on by all parties”. 

For his part, Zapatero broke his usual diplomatic silence Wednesday to criticise the opposition’s position in an open letter published on Spanish website EFE. 

“I find it shocking that the document was not signed by the opposition representation. I do not agree with the circumstances and the reasons, but my duty is to defend the truth and my commitment is not to give up on the achievement of a historic commitment among Venezuelans,” reads the letter.

Zapatero also urged the opposition to rethink its position and in the name “of peace and democracy… endorse the agreement” which he described as “a real and courageous hope for the future of Venezuela”. 

Tweeting on the issue Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that he had signed the original document and intended to comply with what had been agreed. He also promised the opposition electoral guarantees in the upcoming presidential vote. 

Last week the government told the public that a deal between the two sides was imminent, but was accused of having misrepresented the situation by the opposition. 

Full text of proposed agreement:

Agreement of Democratic Coexistence by Venezuela

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

February 7, 2018

Together, the government and opposition concur on the need to agree on a political, economic, and social framework that will generate effective progress in the current situation in Venezuela.

The objectives of the present agreements are: the affirmation of national sovereignty, democratic stability, governability, full respect for human rights, guarantees in electoral processes, cooperation in the face of the existing socio-economic situation, the affirmation of the rule of constitutional law, the full development of political rights and a commitment to democratic respect, the absolute rejection of violence as a political instrument, and a policy of reconciliation as a foundation for national democratic coexistence.

The development of the points of this agreement will be subject to the reciprocal fulfillment of all the subscribed commitments.

1. Sovereignty and unilateral sanctions against Venezuela:

The government and opposition agree to work together to review and eliminate unilateral sanctions against the country, which block its financial ability to meet the basic needs of the Venezuelan people. Therefore, a bilateral commission will be created to carry out the appropriate actions in the international community. The commission will start operating within 48 hours.

The government and the opposition ratify the legitimate rights of Venezuela over the territory of Guayana Esequiba and highlight their unrestricted commitment to the 1966 Geneva Agreement as the only valid legal instrument to settle this territorial dispute and to amicably reach a practical and satisfactory arrangement for both parties. 

Consequently, the parties reject the inexplicable recommendation of the United Nations Secretary-General that seeks to avoid the application of the successive political steps ordered by the Geneva Agreement, and to leave the resolution of this controversy to a dangerous inertia, squandering the legal and peaceful virtues of this valid international treaty, which is in harmony with the postulates of peace to which the United Nations adheres.

The parties ratify their firm support for the actions undertaken by the Republic in defense of their sovereign rights over the Essequibo.

2. Elections

The elections will be held on the twenty-second (22) day of the month of April of the year two thousand and eighteen (2018).

Guarantees in the electoral process:

It is urged that the two rectors designated on December 13, 2016, by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court Justice are urgently selected. These will be chosen by consensus by the signees of this agreement. 

The government and opposition agree to propose to the Secretary-General of the United Nations a delegation for electoral accompaniment and observation, as well as representation from the accompanying countries who signed this agreement.

Equality in the access of public and private media and in national and international social media will be guaranteed and favored in the development of the electoral campaign. 

On the date elections are called, [formerly relocated] national voting centers will be reinstated to their original places and the largest possible public dissemination will be carried out so that voters are aware.

All technical audits will be carried out according to established standards, not inferior to those used in the [presidential] elections of October 7, 2012, and of the six (06) of December [legislative elections] of two thousand and fifteen (2015). In particular, the aforementioned audits will review all the components of the system, with established protocols and the presence of international observation.

The appropriate draw of board members will be carried out with the adequate notification to them, and due supervision of the Electoral Power.

The opportune draw for members of electoral observers [in centers] will be carried out with adequate notification, and due supervision from the electoral authorities. 

The electoral registry should remain open for updates both inside and outside the country from February 8 to February 15.

The parties agree to reinforce the mechanisms for the political participation of parties in the democratic system.

Within the Monitoring and Verification Committee for the Agreement, a high-level group will be set up to deal with the issues that arise and will assist in the proper conduct of the electoral process. This commission will be integrated by a representative of the government, a representative of the opposition, and former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

The parties agree to recognize the results of the presidential elections of 2018, independently of the outcome.

3. Strengthening the Constitutional Rule of Law:

The government and opposition agree to create a political commission between the National Assembly and the National Constituent Assembly for institutional coexistence.

4. The Economic and Social Situation:

Without detracting from the competencies and responsibilities of the national government in relation to public policy in the social and economic area, it is agreed that:

A commission for the study, analysis, and formulation of constructive proposals to address the economic situation of Venezuela will be immediately established. 

This commission will be open to the work and proposals from different social sectors and may request the collaboration of experts. As a priority, this commission will propose measures to promote access to goods and services for the population through the various existing channels, such as the elimination of financial blockades, the obtaining of finance through various international organizations and entities or countries to cooperate, or in any other way that can contribute to that end. 

This commission will be constituted within the first seven (7) consecutive days of the signing of this agreement. 

5. Truth Commission: 

The Truth Commission must carry out its work in the shortest possible timeframe and present a report in a period of 2 months. Three (03) representatives of the opposition and a long-standing human rights NGO, proposed by the opposition, will be incorporated. 

The commission will continue to promote measures toward the positive initiatives adopted on the twenty-third (23) of December of the year two thousand and seventeen (2017). The purpose of this commission is reconciliation, reparations for victims, peace, justice, and democratic coexistence in Venezuela. 

6. Commission for Follow-up and Verification of the Agreement:

The commission is set up to promote and ensure the follow-up and implementation of these agreements between the government and the opposition. It will be composed of (representatives from the government and representatives of the opposition), the government of the Dominican Republic, the foreign ministers of the countries that are accompanying the signing of this agreement and former Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero. It will meet once a month at a determined place. It will be chaired and convened by the government of the Dominican Republic. 

The government and the opposition may call for extraordinary meetings through the President of the Dominican Republic. The Monitoring Commission will guarantee compliance with the agreements and will resolve the interpretative doubts and conflicts that may arise. Its method of decision will be of consensus. 

Likewise, the commission may formally address governments, organizations and international entities to request collaboration in the development of this agreement, always respecting the sovereignty of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

All the commission’s texts, agreements, and reports will be held by the government of the Dominican Republic, which will act as guarantor of their authenticity. 

The commission will appoint a coordinator and a technical secretary who will be provided with the necessary support to carry out their tasks. 

The commission will work for an indefinite length of time and in all cases will review the agreement and the need for its maintenance, its modification, and termination after the presidential elections of two thousand and eighteen (2018). 

Done and signed in the city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on the sixth (06) day of the month of February two thousand and eighteen (2018). 

Signed on behalf of the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, ____________________________ 

Signed on behalf of the opposition to the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, ___________________________

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