Mérida, September 27, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government and US-backed opposition held a third round of talks in Mexico City over the weekend amid increasing friction.
The weekend negotiations followed “fruitful” encounters in August and early September. Following previous sessions, the two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding, opposition politician Freddy Guevara was released from prison, a number of hardliners signed up to participate in the upcoming November 21 elections and US $5.1 billion was transferred to the country’s international reserves by the International Monetary Fund.
The talks bring together representatives of the Nicolás Maduro government and Juan Guaidó bloc under the banner of the self-styled Unitary Platform. More moderate opposition sectors and leftwing opponents were not invited.
Following the third session, Norwegian mediators published a joint statement on Monday in which both parties committed to “establish consultations with diverse international and national political and social actors to set up (…) an efficient mechanism for participation.” While further details of the agreement are not clear, the talks were reportedly due to focus on “returning institutional order” to the country, especially in judicial areas and the rule of law. No date was set for the next round.
For his part, President Maduro, who is not participating directly in the talks, claimed that both sides were “advancing towards a permanent and stable peace” on Monday night.
However, tensions have beset the latest negotiations, with the workgroup starting a day late after the government delegation failed to show on Friday.
The talks also faced the threat of breaking down after Norway’s outgoing Prime Minister Erna Solberg claimed to be “concerned” over an alleged “decline in democracy and respect for human rights” in the Caribbean country at the United Nations’ 76th General Assembly last week. Following “long conversations” with Norwegian mediators, Caracas later accepted an apology and the Scandinavian country’s “neutrality.”
A social media broadcast on Thursday from Washington’s unofficial ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, similarly threatened to derail the negotiations.
In it, the Colombia-based diplomat highlighted his government’s own agenda for the talks, in what Caracas described as “shameful” and “interventionist” orders to the “colonized” opposition bloc. Washington has previously claimed to only be willing to consider sanctions relief ̶ one of the Caracas government’s major demands ̶ should undefined “irreversible changes” be implemented in the country.
The government delegation also used the latest negotiations to hit out at the White House’s efforts to extradite Venezuelan envoy Alex Saab. Upon arriving in Mexico, negotiators held up posters with Saab’s face to the press in a symbolic gesture.
The Colombian-born businessman, who Caracas has unsuccessfully attempted to integrate into its team in Mexico, remains detained in Cape Verde where he was arrested during a stopover allegedly en route to Iran to negotiate trade agreements in June. The Cape Verde Constitutional Court recently confirmed the legality of Washington’s extradition request, despite the two countries not possessing an extradition treaty and allegations of judicial irregularities from Saab’s defense team.
The Mexico dialogue comes as the country continues to prepare for regional and local elections which are expected to see the greatest levels of political participation since 2017, with both hardline and moderate opposition groups fielding candidates. Apart from the rightwing opponents, government candidates are also facing growing challenges from a range of leftist organizations which have signed up candidates across the board on the Communist Party (PCV) ticket.
Despite being backed by Washington and Brussels, the talks have received criticism at home with rightwing sectors accusing the Unitary Platform of capitulating to government demands and leftwing organizations describing the negotiations as a “pact between the two most important fractions of the bourgeoisie.”
Leftist parties have also denounced a number of bureaucratic maneuvers in the process of registering electoral candidates, with PCV candidates Eduardo Samán, Nerio Galbán and Miguel Vásquez barred from running in Caracas, La Guaïra and Nueva Esparta, respectively, with no official explanation. Activists have contrasted the legal blocks with government concessions to hardline opposition figures charged by police with a range of crimes including terrorism and treason, many of whom have successfully signed up to run this November.