Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused political opponents of rejecting the legitimacy of his government after the opposition suspended talks to end nationwide demonstrations that have left at least 42 dead.
“We will return to meetings with the government if they show interest,” Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, general secretary of the opposition alliance Democratic Unity Roundtable, known as MUD, said at a news conference in Caracas yesterday. “The government is only increasing the repression. They have to decide whether they want to win war or peace.”
National guardsmen on May 8 arrested 243 students who had been sleeping in tent camps for the past month, according to the Interior Ministry. The raids reignited demonstrations in the capital, where protesters threw up new street barricades, and clashes left one policeman dead.
The opposition alliance and the government held two sessions of talks last month to end the protests that started Feb. 12 over rising inflation, mounting shortages and rampant crime. The talks are mediated by the Roman Catholic Church and the foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador.
The opposition “has to recognize the legitimate authority that I represent,” the president said on his televised radio show ’In Contact With Maduro’ last night in response to the MUD announcement. “I’m showing my goodwill to continue debating. I won’t tolerate any blackmail.”
Maduro won the vote to succeed late President Hugo Chavez in April 2013 by the narrowest electoral margin in 45 years, triggering accusations of fraud by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles and mass demonstrations.
Youth protesters with covered faces blocked the streets of Chacao district of the capital last night, following clashes between rioters and national guards in the nearby Los Palos Grandes district earlier in the week.
Students and professors from the public Central University of Venezuela will march to the public prosecutor’s office in Caracas today to protest against repression, Aveledo said.
MUD will only speak to the mediators until Maduro seriously considers their proposals, which include amnesty for political prisoners, Aveledo said.
At least three MUD member parties boycotted the dialog over the jailing of two opposition mayors and the leader of the Popular Will party, Leopoldo Lopez, during the peak of the protests in February and March.
The last session of the talks, scheduled for May 8, was canceled after the foreign ministers asked for more time to discuss both sides’ proposals, said Capriles, the governor of Miranda state.
“The talks haven’t produced any result up to now,” Capriles said in an interview over a chicken stew in Barlovento, Miranda on May 10. “With the camp raids the government has shown its problem isn’t the barricades, it’s the protest itself.”
The economy will shrink 1 percent this year, according to the median estimate of 13 economists surveyed by Bloomberg last month, as the government slashes imports to preserve foreign reserves. This compares with a February forecast of 0.5 percent growth.
Annual inflation in Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves, hit 59 percent in March, with prices rising the most in four months. The government that month carried out the biggest devaluation since currency controls were instituted in 2003.
“If the government wants to criminalize the protests, they will have to build many more prisons, because the economic crisis is only getting worse,” said Capriles.