South America leaders to hold Venezuela crisis talks

By Ben Tavener, Tuesday, March 11, 2014

South American leaders will hold talks for solution to Venezuela's political and economic crisis

South American leaders will hold talks for solution to Venezuela's political and economic crisis

SAO PAULO - A commission to help put an end to Venezuela's ongoing political and economic crisis will be set up by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said Tuesday. 

Venezuela agreed to discussions with UNASUR representatives, who will now be meeting on Wednesday afternoon in Chile, but spurned collaboration with the Organization of American States (OAS) after a fallout with the United States and Panama, who are not part of UNASUR.

Speaking in Santiago at the inauguration of Chile's new president, Michele Bachelet, Rousseff said: “The [UNASUR] presidents will send their foreign ministers tomorrow for a meeting, and will create a commission that will have representatives from all countries in the region and start dialogue to build an atmosphere of agreement, consensus and stability in Venezuela.”

Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro cancelled his trip to Chile at the last minute and sent the country's Foreign Minister Elias Jaua instead. Rousseff played down comments that it would “interrupt” the process.

- Further deaths

The announcement of UNASUR's Venezuela crisis commission came just hours after another death was reported in the country's west – the latest in a month-long standoff between government supporters and anti-government protesters.

Daniel Tinoco, a student leader in the city of San Cristobal known for his outspoken anti-government stance, was shot in the chest during an anti-government demonstration and later died, local government sources confirmed.

Eyewitnesses say Tinoco was attacked, along with other students, by armed men on motorcycles.

The city has seen some of the worst violence in the country's ongoing unrest in which 22 people – on both sides of the political divide – are now known to have been killed.

San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos, who is a member of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, said members of the "colectivos" – pro-government armed militia – had been targeting and clashing with anti-government protesters.

Maduro's government has blamed much of the violence on attempts by alleged fascist groups to stage a coup, but the president says the government now has the opposition under control and that the threat has been “neutralized.”

The protests initially began in San Cristobal in criticism of soaring crime levels but spread to capital Caracas. The list of grievances has since grown to include the unavailability of basic goods, the world's worst annual rate of inflation, limits to freedom of speech, and calls for President Maduro to resign.

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