Bloomberg News

Venezuela to Continue Talks With Opposition as Expectations Wane

April 16, 2014

Venezuela’s government is set to continue talks with the political opposition next week after two initial meetings failed to end 10 weeks of protests that have left at least 41 people dead.

Both sides agreed to continue talks and work together on initiatives including the government’s anti-crime plans and the process to renew Supreme Court justices and electoral council rectors, alliance secretary Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said last night. The opposition will also participate in a so-called truth committee investigating protest-related violence by submitting alleged cases of torture and cruel treatment, he said.

“This path we have all dared to undertake isn’t easy, it’s not simple for anyone,” Aveledo said close to midnight on state television. “But we have shown today that we are willing to look for openings, paths, to try building solutions. The important thing is that the process not stop.”

Venezuela’s government held televised talks last week with the opposition for the first time in a six-hour national broadcast that went past midnight. Demonstrations by students that began in early February over safety at universities have turned into a nationwide protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s handling of crime and the economy resulting in near daily clashes between protesters and the national guard.

‘Advancing Positively’

“We are advancing positively,” Vice President Jorge Arreaza said on state television after the meeting. “This is a good sign to the country.”

Arreaza hosted the closed-door meeting, which lasted three and a half hours, accompanied by the foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador and a Vatican representative.

“While both parties had strong incentives to come to the table, little is likely to come from the conversations,” Eurasia Group analyst Risa Grais-Targow said yesterday in an e-mailed note to clients, adding that protests would likely continue.

Government and opposition agreed to address cases of those the opposition calls political prisoners after the government rejected an amnesty proposal, Aveledo said.

Opposition Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro last year in the narrowest election in 45 years, spoke at about 12:40 a.m. during the last dialogue with the government that ended in the early hours of April 11.

Late Speech

“They let Capriles speak at 1:00 a.m. so that no one would listen to him,” Gloria Cuenca, a journalism ethics professor at Venezuela’s Central University in Caracas said in a telephone interview. “An enormous number of people didn’t hear him speak that day.”

Among other demands, the opposition is pushing for the release of political prisoners and jailed protesters including Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Popular Will party, and two opposition mayors, who have been charged with inciting violence.

“The government is highly unlikely to concede to the opposition’s demands,” Grais-Targow said. “Ongoing protests actually provide the government with a distraction from a very difficult economic situation, including a politically costly devaluation.”

Venezuela last month allowed the bolivar to weaken 88 percent on a new currency market designed to allow companies to obtain dollars in a country where shortages have stoked the world’s fastest inflation. Consumer prices rose 57.3 percent in February.

Maduro had been pressured into a dialogue with the opposition by his international allies after his government was viewed to have used excessive force against protesters, said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a London-based political risk analyst at the consultancy IHS Global Insight, adding that the meeting with the opposition had bought the government some time.

“It’s not a dialogue out of good faith or coming from a government that wants to change directions,” he said. “The latent risk that these middle-class protests expand to popular sectors and unions still exists. In Venezuela, the perfect storm is forming.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jose Orozco in Caracas at jorozco8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net Andrew Davis


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