The Venezuelan government and right-wing opposition have finally sat down for talks after months of increasing tensions, setting an agenda for ongoing negotiations focused on four key issues in the name of tackling the political and economic crisis rocking the country.
President Nicolas Maduro and members of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela met Sunday in Caracas with leaders of the opposition coalition the Democratic Unity Roundtable, with the mediation of the Vatican and the regional bloc Unasur after proposed dialogue stalled for weeks in the face of opposition resistance.
“Today, a certain possibility that peace always prevails over violence is being born,” said government representative Jorge Rodriguez.
Fractures in the broad opposition coalition also showed in the immediate lead-up to the dialogue. A group of 15 currents of the MUD came out against going to the negotiating table with the government, while jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez's Popular Will Party—one of the three main parties in the coalition—dropped out of the talks at the last minute over complaints that its conditions related to what his supporters call “political prisoners” were not met. MUD secretary general Jesus Torrealba led the opposition delegation.
Despite lasting intransigence in some sections of the splintered opposition, both sides agreed to an agenda to divide up the dialogue process into four main areas: peace, respect for the rule of law and sovereignty; truth, justice, human rights, reparation for victims, and reconciliation; economic and social issues; and building truth in the electoral process and schedule.
Vatican envoy Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, accompanied by Unasur head Ernesto Samper, announced that “the government and the opposition agreed to tone down the aggressive language used in political debate,” citing an effort to “maintain and preserve an atmosphere of peace and harmony.”
Maduro also met with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Shannon at the presidential palace regarding the negotiations.
Shortly after the meeting, Maduro said in a press conference that he appreciated Torrealba and that he would shake his hand wherever he saw him. He also called the sectors still reluctant to dialogue to join the talks, "We will work together to build a one and only Venezuela."
However, the president refused to attend the legislative hearing that the National Assembly convoked him to a week earlier as part of an illegal attempt to push for an impeachment procedure. "I am willing to debate, not to transgress the Constitution ... (The hearing) is illegal, and they are aware of it," he added.
Article 222 of the constitution contemplates the possibility of having state officials declare about their "political responsibility;" however the National Assembly is not entitled to open the procedure by itself, but needs to “solicit Citizen Power”—which consists of the ombudsman, the attorney general and the treasurer. After all of that is accomplished, the supreme electoral tribunal has the last word, according to the country's constitution.
The right-wing opposition—angered by a decision by the National Electoral Council to suspend the process of organizing a recall referendum against Maduro over irregularities in the collection of signatures—began an impeachment process in the opposition-dominated National Assembly against President Maduro.
Despite being largely symbolic given that the Supreme Court has declared the parliament illegitimate for seating fraud-accused lawmakers whose elections were never certified, critics of the impeachment attempt argue that the effort mirrors the recent parliamentary coup against former President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
The right-wing, that has never reconciled itself to the Bolivarian Revolution begun by the late Hugo Chavez, also called for a "Takeover of Venezuela" and a general strike last week that was a virtual failure.
The two sides are set to meet again Monday before putting work on hold for over a week, with a scheduled return to negotiations on Nov. 11 in Caracas. Leopoldo Lopez’s party is also expected to join the process as it advances in the coming days, according to EFE. Lopez is serving a prison term over charges of fomenting violence that during hostile opposition protests in 2013 that led to the deaths of 43 people.
In a provocative move not seen since the failed coup attempt against Chavez in 2002, the opposition has called for a march on the presidential palace in Caracas, known as Miraflores for Thursday. Pro-government forces have vowed to defend Miraflores against any violence or coup attempts.