Venezuelans Hold Rival Protests Ahead of Peace Conference

Venezuela’s opposition ruled out attending a “peace conference” called by President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas for today following two weeks of protests that have killed 14 people.

The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable said any talks must be predicated on an agenda agreed upon in advance and the participation of a third party, according to a statement posted on their website today. Opposition Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro in elections last year, has previously called for the Catholic Church to mediate any negotiations.

Maduro said yesterday that his government is gaining support as the daily demonstrations begin to alienate voters. Student protesters called for another rally tomorrow after opposition leader Maria Corina Machado led a silent march of women in the west of the capital today and agricultural workers walked to the Presidential Palace to support Maduro.

“Fortunately, the violent protests have been fading and each day we’ll conquer territories of peace and defeat them, the extreme right wing and its violence,” Maduro said at a rally in Caracas yesterday. Protesters in the street “are a violent minority. The vast majority of Venezuelans including many opponents of the revolution want peace.”

Demonstrators protesting shortages of basic goods, the world’s fastest inflation and rising crime have confronted armed pro-government groups and National Guard troops nightly in Caracas since Feb. 12.

Maduro called on a cross-section of Venezuelan society, including union workers, intellectuals, clergy, students and governors to come to Caracas today and sign an agreement condemning violence.

Leopoldo Lopez

Panama President Ricardo Martinelli asked the Organization of American States to hold a meeting of foreign ministers on the Venezuelan crisis and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter expressed concern about the violence.

The public prosecutor has arrested eight officers from the intelligence police, known as Sebin, over the murder of two people during protests on Feb. 12.

While saying opposition groups are free to protest, Maduro has accused them of conducting a slow-motion coup d’etat. The government last week arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges of inciting violence.

Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, said yesterday that her husband is being treated respectfully in a military prison outside Caracas and she reiterated calls for peaceful protests.

“We have to resist, we have to have strength and faith,” she said in an interview on the Venevision television network.

Diplomatic Spat

Venezuela yesterday nominated Maximilian Arvelaez to be the country’s first ambassador to the U.S. since 2010, when then President Hugo Chavez refused to accept the State Department’s nominee for ambassador in Caracas.

The move comes after Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats this month for allegedly aiding groups involved in the protests. The U.S. responded by expelling three Venezuelan diplomats.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said the nomination of Arvelaez, a former ambassador to Brazil, was meant to “establish political relations at the highest level that will contribute to peace.”

“If the U.S. accepts the nomination, it signals a softening of attitudes and opens the way for the U.S. to return its ambassador,” Robert Loftis, a professor of international relations at Boston University, said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday.

The U.S. is Venezuela’s biggest trading partner and the largest buyer of Venezuelan oil, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Bloomberg Industries.

Record Shortages

In an effort to mitigate record shortages of everything from imported food to medicine, Venezuela this week published rules allowing companies and individuals to buy and sell U.S. dollars in a regulated market. Previously, the central bank was the sole supplier of greenbacks, and as foreign reserves fell, less foreign currency was made available to pay for imports.

Venezuela’s benchmark dollar bonds due in 2027 fell 0.30 cents on the dollar to 69.83 cents today, ending a five-day rally. Bank of America Corp. and Barclays Plc. upgraded the country’s bonds to overweight this week, citing the possibility of higher fuel prices and the new dollar sales.

As he prepared for the summit, Maduro said yesterday that the opposition “has no political will to contribute to peace in the country. Fascists, prepare for another loss and the people, prepare for another victory.”