Venezuela’s Maduro Meets Pope Francis as Vatican Joins Talks

  • Opposition and government to meet on Oct. 30 in Margarita
  • Tensions rise in Caracas after recall process suspended

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met with Pope Francis Monday and received a blessing for the South American nation, as the Vatican emerges as a key player in a new dialogue process starting up amid an intensifying political crisis.

Maduro, who’s been on a tour of oil producing countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the past week, arrived in Rome on Monday and had a private meeting with the pope at the Vatican, the Information Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

The opposition alliance known as MUD earlier said that Emil Paul Tscherrig, the Vatican’s representative in Buenos Aires, had arrived in Caracas to act as an intermediary between the government and opposition. Tension is mounting in Venezuela after the national electoral council last week suspended a recall referendum process against Maduro, a ruling the opposition-controlled National Assembly described as a coup.

QuickTake Venezuela

“It was an excellent private meeting with profound spirituality,” Maduro said in posts on his Twitter account. “I celebrate the installation of a national dialogue for peace and sovereignty. The path for the homeland is peace, prosperity and social happiness with love and Bolivarian strength. We’ll keep advancing and defeating demons.”

Maduro, speaking later on state television as he clutched a crucifix, said that Pope Francis gave him several books and “personal reflections” to consider. Addressing his trip to oil producing countries, Maduro said he had held successful talks and that a new cycle of stable prices would emerge.

Meeting Scheduled

Representatives from the opposition and government will meet with the Vatican mediator in Margarita Island on Oct. 30, the opposition alliance said in a post on its Twitter account. Jorge Rodriguez, mayor of the Caracas federal district and a socialist party official who has represented the government in dialogue talks, said the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, would also attend the talks.

“It’s important to have light, a lamp to guide us through this tunnel of a fight that we’ve entered,” opposition alliance general secretary Jesus Chuo Torrealba said in a statement on Monday. “We’re entering a process of struggle that will be complex and difficult.”

QuickTake Pope Francis

Venezuela’s government first said it accepted the the opposition’s proposal to have the Vatican join a dialogue process in July. At the time, the opposition said it would only sit down for talks if the recall referendum on Maduro was allowed to advance.

Venezuela’s opposition alliance on Monday renewed calls for supporters to participate in a “Taking of Venezuela” protest planned across the country for Wednesday. The alliance said any future talks should take place in Caracas.

“Any dialogue process should have four fundamental objectives including the respect for the right to vote, liberty for the political prisoners and return of those exiled, attention to the victims of the humanitarian crisis, and respect for the autonomy of powers,” MUD said in a statement late Monday, after some alliance members said in posts on social media that they had been surprised by the dialogue process.

National Assembly

Congress on Sunday approved a series of actions in response to the suspension of the referendum process during a four-hour extraordinary session that was briefly interrupted by government supporters. The National Assembly is expected to meet Tuesday and debate the “constitutional situation of the Presidency,” congress secretary Roberto Marrero said in a post on his Twitter account.

“The stage seems set for a confrontation of powers in which both the government and the opposition will challenge each other’s legitimacy and legality,” Francisco Rodriguez, chief economist at Torino Capital in New York, said Monday in an e-mailed note. “If the government’s invalidation of the recall stands, Venezuela will clearly have taken a significant step toward becoming a non-electoral authoritarian system.”

The opposition’s only main option of focusing on street protests will increase the near-term risk of a “social eruption” amid ongoing food shortages and triple-digit inflation, political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in an e-mailed note on Friday.

Caracas-based El Nacional newspaper on Monday reported that student protests had broken out in various parts of the country.

Venezuela is in breach of the Mercosur trade bloc’s democratic clause, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said at a news conference Monday after meeting with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez. Member states will meet over the next few days to discuss the Venezuelan crisis, Vazquez added.

“I hope the deadbeat visiting in Rome doesn’t make a joke of Pope Francis and listens to him carefully,” opposition governor and leader Henrique Capriles said in a post on his Twitter account. “The coup needs to be stopped!”

— With assistance by Noris Soto, and Fabiola Zerpa

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