Foreign diplomatic representatives in Venezuela responsible for assisting the dialogue process between the Venezuelan government and opposition have reported a “re-opening” of communication between the two sides.
The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, in representation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), along with a papal envoy, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday in order to try and reestablish dialogue between the administration of Nicolas Maduro and the conservative opposition.
The opposition Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition broke off talks last Tuesday after claiming that not enough progress was being made in the dialogue and that certain “demands” must be met for the opposition to return to the table. They also accused the government of sending “mixed signals” about the dialogue process and what was being discussed in the talks.
In their demands, the opposition requested that “political prisoners” such as Ivan Simonovis, the Caracas police commissioner jailed in 2009 for his role in killings during the 2002 coup attempt against the Chavez government, be freed. Simonovis is reportedly suffering from a serious health condition.
Other demands were that all opposition “students” arrested in recent protests and violent unrest be freed, and that a Truth Commission be formed by “members trusted by all” to investigate crimes committed during the unrest.
The current Truth Commission is made up of pro-government parliamentarians, who are inviting opposition politicians and civil society figures to participate. Meanwhile according to the Attorney General’s office, of the 197 people under arrest for allegedly committing violent actions in the past three months of unrest, only 14 are students.
The dialogue talks, which began last month, did achieve some results, such as beginning the process of electing new rectors to the National Electoral Council.
Nevertheless both the government and victims groups opposed the idea of an amnesty for Simonovis and other such figures.
It also appears unlikely that the government would intervene in the judicial process to free opposition activists who have engaged in violent acts, including actions which have been labeled as “terrorist” such as homicides and the destruction of university faculties, government offices, and public buses.
The environment for dialogue further soured when authorities cleared hard-line opposition “protest camps” from the streets of Caracas. The opposition called the action “violent” and a “crackdown” while the government referred to the camps as places where attacks on public services and property had been planned. Guns, homemade bombs and illicit substances were recovered from the camps.
When the opposition broke off the talks last week, President Maduro responded by stating he wouldn’t be “blackmailed” and pointing to advances made so far, as well as the importance of the talks for the country.
“They (the MUD) say they want immediate results. The dialogue itself is a positive result. What are they looking for? In private, they’ve said things that are impossible,” he stated.
The president also claimed that if the opposition walked away from the peace talks, there would “be national repudiation of their anti-democratic attitude … I urge sense and reflection.”
Meanwhile one pro-government parliamentarian, Ricardo Sanguino, accused the opposition of maintaining a “double discourse” while the government “aims towards peace”.
“The MUD has a double discourse. They have never expressed an opinion about the terrorist actions, and [yet] they were incorporated into the dialogue process,” he said in an interview yesterday.
Yesterday and today UNASUR ministers and the papal envoy met with government and opposition representatives separately, during which the opposition put their case to the foreign mediators.
“We informed them [foreign mediators] of the conditions on which we declared the government must define itself. If it wants dialogue, it should show concrete evidence of its interest in dialoguing. If not, by giving confusing signals, it looks like they don’t want it,” said MUD general secretary Ramon Aveledo on Sunday.
Following the meetings, the UNASUR ministers announced their success in opening communication between the two sides.
“The UNASUR foreign ministers’ commission and the papal envoy have opened bridges of communication again. We’ve advanced in various points on the agenda,” tweeted Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño this evening.
“To maintain a dialogue process isn’t easy, but we’ve found the favourable disposition of the Venezuelan government and the MUD,” Patiño also tweeted.
However it is not clear if, when or under what conditions further formal talks will take place between the government and opposition.
The dialogue was first organized after the worst period of opposition unrest Venezuela has seen in a decade. Along with some peaceful protests over issues such as crime and shortages, hard-line militants engaged in a strategy of riots, street barricades and attacks on public property and employees while demanding President Maduro’s resignation.
While a small hardcore of opposition activists continues to take to the streets in a few hotspots such as the wealthy east of Caracas, urban life has generally returned back to normal across the country.
On the official count 42 people died and around 785 were wounded since unrest began in early February. 275 of those wounded were members of security forces, while the fatalities included opposition activists, government supporters, bystanders and members of security services.
Meanwhile authorities are investigating 160 allegations of abuses by security forces during this period, 156 of which are for cruel treatment, two for torture and two for murder. Twenty four police and National Guard officers have been arrested or are being monitored ahead of trial in relation to the cases so far.
“The behavior of all institutions must adhere to human rights and if it doesn’t … there are going to be punishments for those who are responsible,” Attorney General Luisa Ortega warned on the country’s National Radio.