Veneuzela govt, opposition to start new talks to end impasse

Accompanied by First Lady Cilia Flores (left), Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference after he voted in the ruling party's primary elections of United Socialist Party of Venezuela, at the Escuela Ecológica Bolivariana Simón Rodríguez in the Fuerte Tiuna neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Aug 8, 2021. (MATIAS DELACROIX / AP)

Representatives of Venezuela’s government and opposition parties are expected to sign an agreement that will kick off months of wide-ranging negotiations aimed at ending a five-year political impasse and addressing the nation’s economic collapse.

During three days of meetings in Mexico City beginning Friday, the two sides will sign a memorandum of understanding drafted by Norwegian mediators and the parties, according to five people with direct knowledge of the talks.

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The memo will set terms for future meetings to discuss topics including relief from international sanctions, how to manage Venezuela’s frozen assets abroad, potential for financial aid, human rights and the schedule for upcoming elections, according to one of the people who requested anonymity as the details are not public.

Venezuela's government and opposition parties are trying to reach an accord ahead of elections on Nov 21 in which mayoral and gubernatorial seats across the country are up for grabs

The two sides are trying to reach an accord ahead of elections on Nov 21 in which mayoral and gubernatorial seats across the country are up for grabs. Opposition parties have boycotted several previous votes, arguing they lacked basic electoral safeguards to make them free and fair.

Long-term agreement

Stalin Gonzalez, former vice-president of the National Assembly who will represent the opposition, said the sides could return to Mexico later this month to begin negotiations, which may stretch for months.

“The regime doesn’t have the capacity to solve this situation by itself,” he said of the country’s economic collapse. “We’ll look for ways to resolve this and help the people. It has to be a long-term agreement.”

Several previous rounds of negotiations ended in failure, including talks in Barbados in 2019, which were also overseen by Norway. This round has a better chance of succeeding as the two sides and foreign governments, including the US and European Union (EU), are more open to finding middle ground on issues like humanitarian assistance and human rights, said Maryhen Jimenez, a political scientist at the University of Oxford who studies Venezuela.

President Nicolas Maduro said he will send his son Nicolas Maduro Guerra and National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez to Mexico. Government lawmaker Francisco Torrealba, Miranda state Governor Hector Rodriguez, and a delegation from Russia will join the talks on the government’s behalf, according to the people.

Government representatives did not reply to requests for comment about goals for the talks. Maduro has called for the negotiations to lead to the lifting of all sanctions imposed by the US and the EU, and recognition of his government’s legitimacy.

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His negotiators will seek “sovereign solutions,” including a schedule for elections, he said on state television Thursday.

In addition to Gonzalez, the opposition will be represented by former legislator and one-time mayor of Baruta, Gerardo Blyde, a representative from each of the main parties, and a team of negotiators from the Netherlands, the people said.

Additionally, the US, Canada, Turkey, Germany and Bolivia will monitor the talks but play no active role in the negotiations, one of the people said, describing them as a group of friendly nations.

Mexico was chosen as the venue as it is considered neutral ground by both sides.