Caracas, April 1, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Colombian government has proposed to host an international meeting to unblock the negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the US-backed opposition.
“President Gustavo Petro will call for an international conference in Bogotá to promote dialogue between representatives of civil society, the opposition and the Venezuelan government,” read a statement published on March 28.
The Colombian government added that the purpose of the summit “is to reopen and build a road map to stimulate and support the dialogue process” in Venezuela and that President Petro “will seek direct conversation with the Venezuelan opposition at the meeting.”
Representatives from the United States, Europe and Latin America were invited to participate in the Bogotá-held forum, although the date has yet to be announced.
According to the communique, the proposal to hold an international gathering has been one of the points discussed between Petro and President Nicolás Maduro during their encounters this year and “was a key topic in the most recent meeting held in Caracas on March 23.”
President Petro ratified that the purpose of the conference was to build a roadmap “for an effective political dialogue” in Venezuela. He made the announcement while a Colombian delegation, led by Foreign Affairs Minister Álvaro Leyva, traveled to Washington for high-level talks on cooperation issues.
The Venezuelan government has not commented on the proposed Venezuela-centered forum nor confirmed if President Maduro or a delegation will take part.
However, Stalin González, who is part of the opposition negotiating team, said Friday that no Venezuelan representative would be present at the international conference. “I understand that the parties will not be invited to the conference, neither the opposition nor the Maduro government. I imagine that they will work some solution there,” he told a local outlet.
González added that the opposition delegation is still working on the release of US $3 billion in Venezuelan funds abroad, illegally seized by Washington and allies since 2019, which is part of the agreement signed by both the government and the opposition in México City last November when they resumed the Norway-brokered talks following a year-long hiatus.
“Let’s hope it will go faster than these last three months, but the [Maduro] government knows it has not been our fault,” he explained, stating that legal procedures to avoid issues with creditors have slowed the process.
Once released, the funds would be administered by the United Nations (UN) to address the Venezuelan people’s urgent and various social needs, primarily the acquisition of medical equipment, vaccines and medicines as well as strengthening the electric system and repairing school infrastructure.
In early January, National Assembly President and head of the government delegation Jorge Rodríguez said “there was no reason” to continue the dialogue if the opposition refused to hold their end of the bargain and free the frozen resources.
Following Petro’s summit proposal, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols confirmed US officials would be willing to participate in the Bogotá conference, stating that “any country’s contribution to improving the situation is important.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Nichols reiterated that Washington would only lift sanctions imposed on Venezuela if there is progress in the government-opposition negotiations. He explained that said progress would include “a roadmap” for the 2024 presidential elections, naming “independent electoral authorities,” the release of alleged “political prisoners” and the US-backed opposition accessing media and economic resources for campaigning.
“With these steps, we can return to normal relations with the country,” said Nichols.
The Maduro government has repeatedly demanded that Washington remove all economic sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign. Since 2017, the US has levied financial sanctions against the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA followed by a full-fledged oil embargo in 2019 and secondary sanctions throughout 2020. The measures have crippled the country’s oil output exacerbating an economic crisis and migration wave.
Besides the oil industry, US sanctions have targeted virtually all sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including mining, banking, and international trade. Washington and allies have gone on to block, seize or freeze a host of Venezuelan assets abroad.
On Friday, the European Union (EU) High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell accepted Colombia’s initiative to push forward the Venezuela talks. “If President Petro is able to raise greater international support for that, it’s a welcome step,” he said.
An EU delegation recently traveled to Venezuela where they met with sectors of civil society, opposition groups and government authorities, including Foreign Affairs Minister Yván Gil and chief government negotiator Jorge Rodríguez. During the three-day visit, there were discussions about the resumption of the Mexico talks and human rights issues, said EU spokesperson Peter Stano.
For his part, Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Juan Guaidó, who was ousted last year by other anti-government factions as the leader of the US-backed “interim government,” responded to the Colombian president that there was no need for a new plan to advance dialogue because “there is already a process in place.”