Venezuela: dialogue between doubts and hope

Almost a month after the resumption of talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, the absence of a public agenda and the indefinite postponement of a new meeting raise doubts that the parties will be able to reach a comprehensive agreement that will help put an end to the the long political, social and economic crisis that has forced seven million Venezuelans to emigrate.

The current dialogue process, “although it is the strongest we have achieved” due to international support, “is still weak,” acknowledged Gerardo Blyde, coordinator of the opposition delegation.

Despite the failure of the previous dialogue processes and the weakness of the current one, a large majority maintains the expectation of success while others seem to settle for minimal agreements that allow the country’s situation to improve after more than two decades of sustained crisis.

“I hope they do their part, we are tired. I have faith that they reach an agreement and things improve, ”he told Associated Press Cecilia Méndez, a 41-year-old office worker who was complaining in a market of Caracas due to the increase in the value of the dollar in recent weeks. In Venezuela, prices are set according to their cost in dollars, which has undermined the purchasing power of millions of people.

Among the factors that feed hope is the decision of the opposition leader Juan Guaido and its allies to leave in the past the position of not negotiating with President Nicolás Maduro and propose a coexistence that allows the sanctions against the socialist government to be gradually lifted as an incentive to reach an agreement.

The parties resumed on November 26 in Mexico the dialogues suspended since October 2021 after Maduro’s delegates left the table when businessman Alex Saab was extradited on charges of money laundering from Cape Verde to USA. Maduro then conditioned the resumption of the release of Saab, who alleges that he was fulfilling diplomatic functions for Venezuela and therefore could not be arrested.

Although Saab is still detained in Florida and the legal process against him is advancing, Maduro gave in to his demand and returned to negotiations. According to analysts, with this the president would be looking for a lifting of the international sanctions that weigh on the Venezuelan government and several high officials, including himself.

The US sanctions seek to prevent the Venezuelan government from conducting financial and commercial transactions abroad, accessing Venezuela’s international assets, and trading in oil or gold. Washington also prohibited Americans and their international partners from doing business with Caracas to pressure Maduro to leave power, arguing that he was elected in 2018 in fraudulent elections.

“It’s a paradox,” he told PA Daniel Varnagy, PhD in Political Science and tenured professor at Simón Bolívar University. “Most Venezuelans distrust” the political actors but hope that the talks will have a successful outcome.

Varnagy highlighted that mistrust is due, to a large extent, to the fact that dialogue does not take place between equal parties: “one negotiates with whoever has as much to give up as the other party and who has as much to gain as the other party” but, in In this case, the Venezuelan government has “all the power” and has become stronger while the opposition “has absolutely no power” and has fragmented.

What now “is being negotiated is basically how to lift the sanctions” that affect the government’s finances and are perceived by a good part of the population as the cause of many of their tribulations, Varnagy pointed out.

Until now, the only important advance has been the signing in the Mexican capital of an agreement that provides for the creation of a fund, to be managed by the United Nations, to address the complex social crisis in the South American country.

The agreement is fundamentally aimed at addressing social problems through the recovery of assets of the Venezuelan State that “are sequestered” in the international financial system, Maduro said, and which are estimated at 3,150 million dollars.

If his adversaries advocate the release of these funds, “later we will see what other issues can be discussed with this sector of the opposition,” Maduro has repeatedly said.

The United States, among dozens of other countries, recognized Guaidó as interim president after he proclaimed himself as such when he served as head of the National Assembly (2016-2021). But international support for Guaidó has declined significantly over time.

Analysts agreed that a general lifting of sanctions is not expected, but rather a discreet and progressive annulment of some of them, Varnagy said.

The US Treasury Department recently extended the license for the operations of the Chevron oil company in Venezuela after years of sanctions that had drastically reduced revenues from the production and sale of oil and gas to the Maduro government coffers.

That decision by the administration of Democrat Joe Biden could open the way for operating agreements with other foreign oil firms.

Weeks before the talks resumed, a major prisoner exchange also took place in which Venezuela released seven imprisoned Americans in exchange for the United States releasing two nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores.

Human rights groups support the dialogue and have warned that its failure could further undermine the rule of law in the country.

In Venezuela, “the root of all social, political and economic problems is the lack of a political agreement and until that political agreement is reached, the crisis in Venezuela will continue,” lawyer Ali Daniels, a member of the member of the board of the non-governmental organization Acceso a la Justicia and professor at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello.

However, he warned, “if an agreement is not reached, there is a risk that the government will become even more arbitrary and even more violations of human rights or crimes against humanity will be committed.”

The International Criminal Court opened in November 2021 a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Maduro administration in which they promised to cooperate to clarify the facts.

In the political sphere, the objective is to agree on electoral guarantees that allow transparent elections to be held. The Maduro government cannot expect sanctions to be lifted without giving anything in return, and that could be an ace up the opposition’s sleeve.

In this regard, Tomás Guanipa, a member of the opposition delegation in the talks in Mexico, stated that the goal is to “achieve the democratization of the country. That when it comes to electing the president of the republic there is a transparent electoral process, with guarantees to Venezuelans that the vote will be respected”.

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