Sunday, December 5

Government and opposition of Venezuela prepare to negotiate in Mexico

President Nicolás Maduro, along with his wife, at a ceremony in Caracas in May.
President Nicolás Maduro, along with his wife, at a ceremony in Caracas in May.Miraflores press / HANDOUT / EFE

The Government of Venezuela and the opposition are preparing for a new negotiation that lays the foundations with which to alleviate the crisis in the South American country. Mexico will be, after the failed processes of Santo Domingo and Barbados, the headquarters of these talks, which have the mediation of Norway and the approval of the United States, key to unlocking the sanctions that weigh on the Chavista hierarchy and its environment . Several of those involved, including Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, have stated in recent weeks that they are willing to start a negotiation in August, but from the inside, mistrust also reigns. Both a sector of the opposition and of Chavismo maintain that the bases on what to negotiate are not yet consolidated and that precipitating any conversation would doom it to failure, which would be a blow to both parties, within Venezuela and with the international community.

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“To say that something is imminent in Venezuela is to fall into a mistake, because even being on the plane on the way to Mexico, everything can blow up,” sums up one of the people familiar with the negotiations who, like the rest of those consulted , ask to speak anonymously to avoid derailing conversations. “Highly counterproductive expectations are being created,” says an opposition politician. The main fear, maintains this source, is that the media battle will prevail over the background of the talks. Both sides have tactical reasons to embark on a negotiation, the Chavismo to achieve international recognition and the opposition to regain prominence, especially within the country. So far, the same source recalls about the latest public statements, all those that have worked are those that have kept a low profile and that have been given in recent years. These have facilitated, for example, the access of medicines and food to Venezuela; the release of political prisoners or the formation of a new National Electoral Council (CNE).

Expectations are as high as fears of the consequences of a new failure. “Each cycle of negotiation has left the government, the opposition and, above all, the country worse,” the same person concludes, warning of an excess of optimism. In 2016, the dialogue sponsored by the Vatican was shipwrecked and which had the participation of several former presidents, including the Spanish José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who later led the process of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), which was blown up at the beginning of 2018. At the end of 2019, the Barbados process failed, already under the mediation of Norway, a country accustomed to mediating in international conflicts, in the case of the peace process in Colombia. If the round of talks in Mexico does not come to fruition, the sources agree, the option of retaking another would not come until 2023, when the next presidential elections are scheduled, and with the credibility of Chavismo and the opposition beaten before the international community by their inability to agree.

This time, the hopes of a negotiation between the Venezuelan government and the opposition are greater, if possible, due to the involvement of the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Mexican diplomacy, which witnessed the Santo Domingo process under the mandate of Enrique Peña Nieto, has not specified what its role will be in these conversations, for which it has put various venues on the table, from Cancun to Mexico City, although Farms have also been considered in Cuernavaca, close to the country’s capital. The Caribbean option, very plausible because of the connectivity and the facilities, does not quite convince a sector of the opposition that fears that the environment will serve to trivialize the meetings.

Both parties value the efforts of the Mexican government and the history of the country’s diplomacy, in cases such as the Contadora negotiations of the peace processes in Central America. On Venezuela, Mexico has maintained an ambiguous position since Andrés Manuel López Obrador came to power in 2018. He avoided recognizing the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, although he has contributed to sheltering members of the opposition and removing them from the country. In addition, it collaborated with an opaque network that exchanged oil from Venezuela, as witnessed by a recent investigation by this newspaper.

Regarding the next negotiation, although most of the preliminary talks have been conducted by Norway, Mexico has maintained contacts with the Joe Biden Administration to ensure that it is willing to support this process.

The approval from the United States to start a negotiation is not just anything. Lifting the sanctions that weigh on the Chavista leadership and all its surroundings is one of the points to be discussed. Although the Government of Venezuela assures that they are no longer a key point, since they have learned to live with them and have guaranteed the support of other powers such as Russia and China, the pressure they suffer is increasing, as well as from the companies themselves Americans who once did business with Venezuela.

The Biden Administration has endorsed Juan Guaidó and his surroundings as the reference within the opposition, precisely the sector that most bothers the Maduro Executive and one of the most persecuted. Two weeks ago, former Congressman Fredy Guevara was arrested. Against a calm negotiation, he plays that the campaign for the mid-term elections in the United States will soon intensify, which would avoid a docile position on the part of Biden with respect to the Caribbean country.

The release of political prisoners and the electoral schedule will be other points to be discussed in a process that, according to the sources consulted, is expected to have a system very similar to that of the Barbados negotiation; that is, hold meetings in Mexico for a few days and then return to discuss each of the issues discussed separately. Everything indicates that the visible head of the Government of Venezuela in the negotiations will be Jorge Rodríguez, president of the National Assembly and one of Maduro’s strong men. On the opposition side are Gerardo Blyde, Carlos Vecchio and Tomás Guanipa.

Regarding the electoral calendar, the regional elections scheduled for the end of the year are decisive, since it is the only window left for the opposition to recover political capital on the ground, while it did not participate in the last presidential and parliamentary elections. that he considered a fraud on the part of Chavismo.

The tensions within the opposition have not been few in this regard. The sector led by Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López -although they are not the only ones- and which has the backing of the United States, has established as a condition sine qua non that the negotiation includes an electoral calendar leading up to a hypothetical presidential election. Chavismo, which is in the process of recomposing its bases, is greatly interested in a recognition of this year’s elections to regain international recognition.

In recent weeks, Maduro and his government have intensified their messages that they are willing to go to Mexico right now to negotiate, adding pressure to the opposition, to which they attribute three different negotiations: with Chavismo, among themselves, and with the United States. . A position, that of trying to agree with several links in the same chain that, in a certain way, is reminiscent of the one that the Colombian government delegation lived during the peace process with the FARC in Havana. Although they are very different processes, there are also other similarities, such as the sense of urgency, of being something definitive. Now or never. After the talks in Caguán, Colombia could not afford another failed negotiation. According to what the Executive and the opposition slip in private, it seems that Venezuela, its population above all, cannot allow another failed process.

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