Venezuela’s opposition says it will sit down for dialogue with President Nicolas Maduro’s government after the country’s electoral council allows the referendum process to move forward.
The government has met a number of opposition conditions for the talks, including the release of most opposition activists jailed since a mediation team of former presidents arrived in Venezuela and committing to free the rest within 15 days of the start of talks, the opposition coalition said. The government also agreed to find a new site for the meetings after the opposition rejected the Dominican Republic.
“We would be willing to begin an effective and constructive dialogue once this petition has been met on the date set by the former presidents and the Vatican,” the opposition coalition, known as MUD, said in a statement on its website.
Venezuela’s opposition is pushing for a referendum to oust Maduro as the economy teeters on the brink of collapse amid a looming constitutional crisis. Gross domestic product will contract 10 percent in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund, with inflation accelerating to around 700 percent. Earlier this week the opposition-controlled Congress pledged to challenge the government-controlled Supreme Court’s rulings.
Ernesto Samper, head of the Union of South American Nations, announced on Thursday that the government had accepted the opposition’s request to give the Vatican a role in talks. Samper spoke alongside Maduro after a meeting at the presidential palace in Caracas, joined by former heads of state Jose Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, Martin Torrijos of Panama and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic.
The next step in the process to hold a referendum on Maduro, which awaits the electoral body’s assent, requires the opposition to collect signatures from 20 percent of the electorate -- or almost 4 million citizens -- before a referendum vote can be activated.