Government Talks Split Venezuelan Opposition

Venezuela’s opposition has split over whether to join talks with the government following two months of protests against inflation and rising crime that have left at least 39 people dead.

The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador will mediate the talks with the opposition’s Democratic Unity Round-table alliance, Vice President Jorge Arreaza said on state television yesterday, with talks set to take place tomorrow. Vatican Foreign Minister Pietro Parolin was also invited to participate, the Information Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today.

Three of the nine political parties forming the opposition alliance, known as MUD, said they won’t join the meetings until the government frees all political prisoners. Those detained include Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Popular Will party, and two opposition mayors, who have been jailed on charges of inciting violence.

“We don’t believe in a ‘dialogue’ when the government is only offering a political show,” Popular Will wrote in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “Our organization won’t validate any dialogue with the regime while there’s repression, the jailing and persecution of our people.”

Opposition’s Agenda

The remaining parties of the opposition coalition will meet to discuss dates for the peace talks, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, MUD secretary general, said on state television yesterday. Respect for the rights of student protesters would be a central part of the opposition’s agenda, he said.

Venezuela’s benchmark 9.25 percent dollar bond due 2027 rose 2.34 cents to 81.05 cents on the dollar today in New York, the biggest gain on a closing basis since March 24. The bond’s yield fell 43 basis points to 12.14 percent, the lowest since Nov. 4. Venezuela bonds have returned 11.1 percent this year, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG Diversified index.

“Without a doubt the broader opposition movement very much favors dialogue over continuing protests,” David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, said by telephone from Caracas. “The more radicalized position has been marginalized within MUD.”

‘Distraction’

The government and the opposition, which received 51 percent and 49 percent of the vote respectively in the last presidential election, haven’t spoken publicly since student demonstrations in early February spilled into nationwide protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s handling of crime and the economy.

The U.S. is holding off on accepting a Venezuelan ambassador, calling it a “distraction” during the protests, Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in testimony before Congress today.

“We feel very, very strongly that this is not about the bilateral relationship between the United States and Venezuela, and therefore we are not taking action to allow a Venezuelan ambassador in the United States yet,” Jacobson said.

Venezuela said Feb. 25 it was proposing a former ambassador to Brazil, Maximilian Arvelaez, to be the country’s first ambassador to the U.S. since 2010.

Winding Down

“While there is a feeling that the protests are winding down, let me remind you that the protesters may get re-energized in a few days easily,” Jorge Piedrahita, CEO of New York-based brokerage Torino Capital LLC, said in an e-mailed response to questions, pointing to months of anti- and pro-government protests in Thailand. “The talks will most likely end without any substantial concession in favor of the opposition or any material improvement for the average citizen. Lack of security, shortages, inflation, etc will continue.”

The MUD said in a statement April 7 that any public meetings with the government must be televised, have a clear agenda and be mediated by a third party such as the Union of the South American States, known as Unasur, or the Roman Catholic Church. Maduro said last month that he would not accept any conditions for meeting political opponents.

“Let the Vatican’s Foreign Minister Pietro Parolin come here,” Maduro said March 27. “Poor guy, they’ll make him waste his time.”

The unrest started Feb. 4 when students demonstrated against a lack of security at universities, sparking nationwide marches organized by the political opposition eight days later.

Maria Corina Machado, an opposition leader, was stripped of her National Assembly post last month for speaking against the government at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington at Panama’s invitation.

Students are planning to march again tomorrow in Caracas, Andres Bello Catholic University student leader Francisco Marquez said today at a news conference in Caracas.

“The way forward to build our fatherland has to be dialogue, never violence,” Maduro said on state television yesterday. “We won’t convert them to Bolivarian Socialism, nor will they convert us into capitalists.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Anatoly Kurmanaev in Caracas at akurmanaev1@bloomberg.net; Jose Orozco in Caracas at jorozco8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net Robert Jameson, Harry Maurer

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