Venezuelan Gov’t, Hardline Opposition to Kickstart Mexico Talks

The negotiations will reportedly focus on aid programs and upcoming presidential elections.

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The Venezuelan government has consistently demanded sanctions relief from Washington. (Reuters)
The Venezuelan government has consistently demanded sanctions relief from Washington. (Reuters)
By Ricardo Vaz
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Caracas, November 5, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Nicolás Maduro government and the US-backed rightwing opposition are set to restart their dialogue process.

According to multiple outlets, the two sides will reconvene in Mexico as early as this week following a year-long hiatus. Opposition forces are grouped in the self-styled Unitary Platform.

The negotiations will again be facilitated by Norway and one of the early priorities will be the management of some US $3 billion in Venezuelan funds seized by Washington. The two parties will allegedly sign off on an UN-administered plan to disburse the funds for aid programs and infrastructure repairs.

The talks are likewise set to focus on conditions for the upcoming presidential vote, including electoral observation. The Venezuelan opposition, as well as the US and allies, have consistently complained about an unfair playing field in lost contests while also lobbying unsubstantiated “fraud” claims.

In contrast, the Venezuelan government has reiteratedly demanded that Washington lift sanctions against its economy.

After inheriting its predecessor’s “maximum pressure” campaign, the Biden administration has reconsidered its Venezuela policy in an attempt to address volatile global energy markets. White House delegations have held two meetings with Venezuelan counterparts in Caracas this year, the latest of which led to a “humanitarian” prisoner exchange.

Bloomberg has claimed the government-opposition engagement will begin after Tuesday’s midterm so as not to hurt Democrat chances in the Congress and Senate races.

In connection with the talks, Washington is weighing an expanded sanctions waiver to allow oil giant Chevron to resume drilling and trading crude from its joint ventures in the Caribbean nation. Since 2017, the US Treasury Department has levied financial sanctions, an oil embargo, secondary sanctions and other measures against Venezuela’s oil industry, the country’s main income source.

The US government additionally froze a number of Venezuelan assets as part of its efforts to oust the Maduro government.

Despite repeated condemnation of the unilateral measures and their impact, the US government has refused to implement sanctions relief, instead demanding that the Maduro administration engage with the opposition and enact unspecified “concrete steps.”

Government and opposition delegations held three rounds of negotiations in 2021 after signing a memorandum of understanding. Partial agreements included joint statements in defense of the country’s sovereignty, a pledge to address social issues and the disbursement of $5.1 billion of IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) that remain blocked.

The hardline opposition also went on to participate in the November regional and local “mega-elections” where the pro-government coalition secured 19 of 23 governorships and 212 of 335 mayoralties.

However, the dialogue was suspended when the Maduro administration withdrew from the process in October after government envoy Alex Saab was forcefully flown from Cape Verde to the United States to face money laundering charges. In a stop-start trial, Saab’s defense has demanded US courts recognize his diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

While the Venezuelan government has yet to officially confirm the reports, National Assembly Deputy Luis Eduardo Martínez said in a TV interview that a preliminary session would kick off the process and that unblocking funds was a priority. Martínez belongs to the minority opposition faction in the country’s parliament and serves as vice president of the Dialogue, Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

For his part, self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó has not commented on an imminent restart of talks but could use negotiations to bolster his falling political standing.

Opposition parties are reportedly looking to put an end to the “interim government” and have lobbied US officials to withdraw recognition from the far-right frontman.

As National Assembly president in 2019, Guaidó took the reins of efforts to oust the Maduro government. However, the opposition-controlled parliament’s term ran out in January 2021. US-backed deputies set up a parallel legislature and have unilaterally extended its term on a yearly basis. Internal opposition turmoil could also affect assets placed under its control, including oil subsidiary CITGO.

Anti-government factions are set to hold primary elections in mid-2023 to choose a candidate for upcoming presidential elections. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, the contests are set to take place in 2024. However, both government and opposition spokespeople have floated the possibility of the vote being held earlier in 2023.

 

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