Venezuela’s government and opposition said they had agreed to formal talks involving a third party mediator to address concern that sparked two months of protests that have left at least 39 people dead.
The foreign ministers of Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil and the Vatican’s representative in Venezuela will participate in the talks, Vice President Jorge Arreaza said on state television today after a preliminary meeting. The formal meeting may take place tomorrow or April 10, Arreaza said.
The opposition coalition will meet to discuss dates for the peace talks, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, secretary general of the Democratic Unity Round-table opposition alliance known as MUD, said on state television. Respect for the rights of student protesters would be a central part of the opposition’s agenda, he said.
The government seeks to “give the country a positive sign by sitting down to dialog and resolve differences with words and ethics,” Arreaza said.
President Nicolas Maduro yesterday accepted the proposal from visiting foreign ministers from the Union of South American States, or Unasur, for preliminary talks with the opposition. The opposition accepted the proposal in an e-mailed statement today.
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 Maduro’s handling of crime and the economy.
The MUD said in a statement yesterday that any public meetings with the government must be televised, have a clear agenda and be mediated by a third party such as Unasur or the Roman Catholic Church. Maduro said March 27 said that he would not accept any conditions for meeting political opponents.
Unasur “proposed a meeting with the delegation from the opposition for tomorrow, and I accepted,” Maduro said on state television yesterday. “I’ll be ready, I’ll be there where Unasur tells me to be.”
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.
Opposition leaders including two mayors and the head of the Popular Will party, Leopoldo Lopez, have been arrested on charges of inciting violence. The opposition says it is promoting peaceful protest.
Maria Corina Machado, a long-time opposition leader, was stripped of her National Assembly post last month for speaking at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington at Panama’s invitation.
Opposition party Popular Will said it did not attend today’s preliminary talks because the government has not met conditions including the release of political prisoners and detained students, ending political persecution and ceasing repression of protests.
“Our organization won’t validate any dialogue with the regime while repression, imprisonment and persecution continue,” Popular Will said in an e-mailed statement.