Venezuelan opposition and government envoys to hold crisis talks



From The Guardian World:

 

Senior figures invited to Norway in bid to end political stalemate and economic meltdown

President Nicolás Maduro




The talks in Norway may make the US less likely to take military action against President Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
Photograph: Miraflores/EPA

Venezuela’s government and opposition have sent envoys to Norway to attend talks on ways of ending the South American country’s crisis, though their mutual mistrust and differences on key issues are likely to reduce chances of progress.

The development reported by officials on Wednesday appeared to reflect a recognition that neither side had been able to prevail in the struggle for power, leaving Venezuela in a state of paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

It was also a policy reversal for the opposition, which has accused the president, Nicolás Maduro, of using previous negotiations to play for time.

Senior members of both sides will be involved in the exploratory discussions in Oslo, said members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. Delegations from the two opposing camps had received separate invitations from a group of Norwegians, one official said.

The representatives include the information minister, Jorge Rodríguez, on the government side and Stalin González, a leading member of the national assembly, the officials said.

Maduro did not directly comment on the talks during televised remarks, but he said Rodríguez was on a “very important” mission outside Venezuela.

Per Wiggen, an official from the Norwegian foreign ministry, would not comment, even to confirm talks, although Norway has been calling on the two sides to talk since February. The Norwegian foreign minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, told lawmakers on 5 March that Norway could be a mediator. “We are in contact with both parties in Venezuela and can provide assistance if the parties wish,” she said at the time.

The planned talks seem likely to reduce speculation that the United States, the main backer of the Venezuelan opposition, may be considering military action as a way to end the crisis in the near term. US officials have previously said they are focusing on diplomatic and economic measures to force out Maduro, though the opposition leader Juan Guaidó said his Washington envoy will meet the head of the US Southern Command on Monday.

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Who is Juan Guaidó?

The opposition leader Juan Guaidó was almost unknown both inside and outside Venezuela until the start of this year.

Guaidó was made chairman of the national assembly in January because it was the turn of his party, Voluntad Popular (People’s Will). At 35, he was a junior member of his party but its leaders were either under house arrest, in hiding or in exile.

He declared himself “interim president” that month, resting his claim on a clause in the constitution that allows the legislature to take power temporarily and call new elections if it deems the president to be failing to fulfil basic duties or to have vacated the post. 

Guaidó’s relative obscurity initially proved an advantage in a country where the opposition has generally failed to distinguish itselflosing its nerve at critical moments, succumbing to infighting, and getting involved in a failed coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002.

He inspired a huge wave of protests inside Venezuela with a message of peaceful change, and won widespread international support. Countries from Europe to the US and regional powers recognised him as Venezuela’s legitimate president, handing him control of bank accounts and Venezuelan assets along with the formal recognition.

As months dragged on however, Guaidó’s hope of winning a wave of military defections that would end the rule of Nicolás Maduro seemed to fade, leaving his movement in an uneasy limbo – self-declared president but with no power.

He raised concerns inside Venezuela and internationally when he appeared to hint at the possibility of military intervention after a failed attempt to bring humanitarian aid into the country in February.

Questions have also been raised about the bedfellows Guaidó has chosen in what he calls his bid to rescue Venezuela. His main international backer is Donald Trump. 

Another key regional supporter is Brazil’s far-right firebrand president, Jair Bolsonaro, known for his hostility to human rights and his fondness for dictatorship. Despite these characteristics, Guaidó has praised what he called Bolsonaro’s “commitment to and for democracy [and] human rights”. 


Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP

The two sides are far apart on many issues. The opposition has insisted that Maduro was illegitimately elected last year and that he must step aside to make way for elections. Maduro, in turn, accuses the opposition of being US stooges intent on illegally seizing power.

The Norway dialogue comes as a mostly European group of nations prepares to send a high-level delegation to Venezuela to propose solutions to the country’s protracted crisis. The International Contact Group on Venezuela consists of eight European countries, EU officials and four Latin American countries.

The group formed after Guaidó, the head of the national assembly, declared himself Venezuela’s interim president early this year in a direct challenge to the rule of Maduro, who says his government champions the socialist principles of his predecessor Hugo Chávez.

The opposition, which is backed by the US and about 50 other nations, says Venezuela’s dire economic state is the result of years of corruption and mismanagement. Maduro blames the country’s problems on US sanctions that were imposed more recently.

Also on Wednesday, Washington suspended all commercial passenger and cargo flights between the US and Venezuela, saying the political unrest and tensions there pose a risk to aircraft.

The announcement by the Department of Homeland Security affected a dwindling number of flights between the two countries, since US airlines no longer fly to Venezuela. The measure reflected the increasingly sour relationship between the Venezuelan government and the US.

Conditions in Venezuela “threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew”, the department said. It said the flight suspension will continue indefinitely, although the decision will be reviewed if the situation in Venezuela changes.

Maduro criticised the suspension of flights, saying the measure was an attack on freedom of movement.

American Airlines stopped its flights in mid-March after union leaders told pilots not to go there because of safety concerns. Some other international airlines quit flying to Venezuela years ago because of the country’s deteriorating economy.

Some Venezuelan airlines had been operating commercial flights to and from Miami, although those were already affected by the upheaval in the country, including after a failed call for a military uprising by the opposition on 30 April.

 

 

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