CARACAS: Venezuelan officials and opposition members have held separate secret meetings in the Dominican Republic with a group of former world leaders attempting to mediate the country’s spiraling political crisis, officials said Saturday.
Representatives of both sides of Venezuela’s political standoff met former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, former Dominican president Leonel Fernandez and Panama’s ex-president Martin Torrijos “in recent days” under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, to seek a “framework for a national dialogue,” the organization said in a statement.
The mediating former leaders found “a desire for dialogue on both sides,” for which new meetings were proposed to “agree on an agenda that meets the requirements of each party and a method for engaging in national dialogue,” the statement said.
The meetings were the initiative of President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez tweeted, saying the effort “promotes peace, respect for the rule of law and the defense of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The main center-right opposition group Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) said in a statement that its conditions for the talks were the holding of a referendum over Maduro’s recall, freeing political prisoners, allowing exiles to return and “an end to prosecutions for political persecution.”
The opposition is also calling on the government to allow international relief supplies of food and medicine into the country and seek to end a crippling economic crisis “generated by official corruption and an economic model that is spreading misery.”
The three former leaders also held talks with Maduro and the opposition under UNASUR auspices in Caracas two weeks ago.
Publicly, the two sides could not be further apart.
MUD, which blames Maduro for the economic crisis, accuses the electoral authorities of dragging their feet in processing their petition for a referendum on removing the socialist leader from office.
Although a survey last month showed 68 percent of Venezuelans want Maduro to leave office and to hold new elections, however, he has said the referendum drive has “very little support.”
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but its economy is reeling from the collapse in global crude prices.
Venezuelans are experiencing severe food and medicine shortages compounded by the world’s highest inflation — almost 190 percent in 2015, which the International Monetary Fund predicts will balloon to 700 percent in 2016. AFP