U.S. Envoy Visits Venezuela as Opposition Signals Stalled Talks

  • Tom Shannon will hold talks with government, opposition
  • Opposition’s Capriles says government left negotiations

Venezuela’s opposition signaled that Vatican-mediated talks with the government had stumbled, just as the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon traveled to Caracas to hold talks with both sides.

Shannon had met with foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in an e-mailed response to questions, adding that he would also meet with members of the opposition, mediators and representatives of civil society.

Opposition governor Henrique Capriles accused the government of stepping away from the negotiating table today, while lawmaker Tomas Guanipa said the mediators had also warned that the talks had broken down. Representatives of the government and opposition said earlier this month that they had agreed on a tentative road map to address a worsening political impasse and agreed to another round of formal talks Dec. 6.

President Nicolas Maduro “left the table of the supposed dialogue,” Capriles said on Wednesday in a series of posts on his Twitter account. “He never came through, and that’s evident to the world. He’s made fun of the Pope.”

Maduro didn’t see it that way.

“We ratified our commitment to the dialogue,” Maduro said on state television Wednesday afternoon after meeting in Caracas with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain’s former prime minister, who has been involved in the dialogue process since it started. 

Political Prisoners

Shannon was in Caracas last month after the government and opposition alliance held an initial meeting as part of the dialogue process and agreed to tone down fierce rhetoric. Since then, the government has released only six political prisoners of the more than one hundred the opposition says are still in custody.

Factions within the opposition have repeatedly threatened to leave the negotiating table if all political prisoners are are not released and a referendum process against Maduro allowed to proceed. Government officials including Maduro have repeatedly said that there will be no early election the country.

Mediators have made an official notification that the government walked away from the talks after the opposition-controlled National Assembly held a session late Tuesday about the U.S. conviction of two nephews of Maduro for drug trafficking, Guanipa said.

Facing the world’s highest inflation rate and a third straight year of recession, the opposition blames the country’s problems on nearly 18 years of socialist rule and has promised to unseat Maduro before his term ends in 2019. Renewed tensions erupted earlier this year after the government stopped the opposition from collecting signatures to try and hold a referendum against Maduro.

— With assistance by Noris Soto, Fabiola Zerpa, and Nick Wadhams

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