Mérida, August 16, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government and hard-right opposition have launched new negotiations reportedly aimed at lifting the blockade and establishing electoral guarantees.
The talks were held on Saturday and Sunday in Mexico City, mediated by the Norwegian and Mexican governments and “more than a dozen countries” which reportedly assisted, including the Netherlands and Russia.
A joint statement released on Sunday described the initial steps as “constructive,” while President Nicolás Maduro told reporters on Monday that his team had “sat down and looked those who wanted to kill us in the eye.”
The delegations were comprised of National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, Miranda Governor Hector Rodríguez (no relation) and lawmaker Nicolás Maduro Guerra -who is President Maduro’s son- for the government; and former mayor Gerardo Blyde, former legislator Stalin González, and Juan Guaidó’s US and Colombia representatives Carlos Vecchio and Tomás Guanipa, respectively, for the opposition.
More moderate center-right organizations, which broke with hardline factions in 2019 to engage in dialogue with the government, were not present. Leftist sectors such as the Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR) led by the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) were likewise not invited.
Both Guaidó and Maduro have voiced clear objectives going into the talks, with the former pressing for new presidential and parliamentary elections. In contrast, the president has demanded the lifting of Washington’s“illegal” and “devastating” blockade, the return of frozen or seized assets, as well as respect for the country’s legitimate institutions and an end to the opposition’s violent tactics.
The details of the weekend talks have not been disclosed, but the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding on Friday which committed them to respecting Venezuela’s Constitution, rule of law and human rights, as well as putting the “wellbeing of the Venezuelan people” first.
Additional memorandum points included backing “inclusive democracy and a culture of tolerance” and“elections with guarantees.” The negotiating parties went on to highlight the “need for sanctions to be lifted” and rejected “any violence against Venezuela.”
Following the agreement’s signing, Jorge Rodríguez told reporters that the negotiations, which are due to resume on September 3, had begun well. “This signature signifies hope. We will nurture this hope to encounter points of agreement beyond the profound differences we have,” he explained.
While it is unclear how far each party is willing to make concessions, arrested opposition politician Freddy Guevara was released by police in Caracas on Sunday in a move largely considered to be an early result from the dialogue. While his legal status remains unclear, sources close to him have indicated that he will be granted house arrest and will join the talks should the opposition deem fit.
Guevara was arrested on July 12 on charges of terrorism, criminal activity and treason after evidence linked him to paramilitary activity. The release of so-called “political prisoners” forms part of the opposition’s list of demands.
Over the weekend, Washington published a joint statement alongside the European Union (EU) and Canada backing the negotiations as well as reiterating its demand for fresh parliamentary and presidential elections with “international standards for democracy.” Venezuela’s legislative and executive mandates expire in 2026 and 2024, respectively.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell complemented the statement by claiming that the signatories are “ready to review sanctions if progress is achieved in the talks.” He did not specify what “progress” entails.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza was quick to hit back at the European official, describing his message as “extortion” and “blackmailing.”
“Sanctions are illegal and generate suffering. They are not imperialist concessions. They should be eliminated due to their illegality and perversion. If you want to help, then respect the talks!,” he stated.
Russia also congratulated the holding of the talks, encouraging foreign parties to refrain from “destructive” interference.
Domestically, the dialogue initiative has been backed by the near-entire spectrum of opposition and pro-government parties, with two-time losing presidential candidate Henrique Capriles stating that “the great winner will be Venezuela.”
Within Venezuela’s grassroots, however, the government-opposition thaw has split opinions, with many voicing their discontent at any potential concessions as well as likening the dealings to the Punto Fijo power-sharing pact of 1958.
APR leading member Rafael Uzcátegui was quick to criticize the negotiations, claiming that “the Maduro-Guaidó, Guaidó-Maduro [talks] are incomprehensible,” forming “another part of the absurdity” of the political class’ gameplay.
The Communist Party and APR have frequently denounced a “pact between elites” which, they claim, looks to place the burden of the “capitalist crisis” on the shoulders of workers. They have also denounced increasing government overtures to opposition sectors that deviate from Hugo Chávez’s project, including the Anti-Blockade Law and Special Economic Zones Law.
For his part, analyst Ociel López told VA that the negotiations “demonstrate a new political scene that diametrically modifies the realignment of geopolitical forces.” The agreements reached in Mexico, however, will deepen divisions within Chavismo, he argues, as “its more radical sectors are annoyed at the signing of an agreement with an opposition which has sworn to wipe Chavismo from the map.”
López has previously argued that the Guaidó opposition’s weakened position has forced him to the negotiation table. Many allies have recently broken with the former legislator and announced their participation in the November 21 local and regional elections.
The latest dialogue effort follows failed talks in 2019 in both Norway and Barbados, with government representatives walking away from the latter after the US imposed new wide-reaching sanctions. Likewise, in 2017-8, opposition leaders abandoned the negotiating table in the Dominican Republic reportedly after then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned lead negotiator Julio Borges.
Talks with some of the more moderate opposition factions, including former presidential candidates Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci and the Chamber of Business and Commerce (FEDECAMARAS) and of Industry (FEDEINDUSTRIA), have led to increased opposition participation in the December 2020 parliamentary elections, electoral guarantees, and the release of a number of detained opposition activists.