Venezuela: Maduro, opposition to hold formal talks

Venezuela's government and opposition agree to hold formal talks to quell two months of violence and anti-government protests.

Venezuela's government and opposition agree to hold formal talks to quell two months of violence and anti-government protests.

SAO PAULO, Brazil - The Venezuelan government and coalition of opposition parties have agreed to “formal talks,” local media reported Wednesday.

Breakthrough “exploratory” talks were held late Tuesday in the capital, Caracas, in a bid to start formal dialogue to end over two months of violence and anti-government protests in which at least 39 people, on both sides, have died.

Vice President Jorde Arreaza said the talks will be public, according to the Noticias24 news website, agreeing to a key demand set by the opposition that the talks be broadcast live on television and radio.

“We hope that, in the hours to come, a formal meeting can be held, which will be public and which Venezuelans will be able to share and see,” Arreaza said.

The vice president said the meeting would be accompanied by the foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador.

A commission of eight foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) regional group have been in Venezuela since Monday on a second visit to help encourage dialogue between the two sides.

The MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática) umbrella group of opposition parties said a representative of the Vatican, which had previously offered its help, would also aid mediation.

- 'Dialogue, not negotiations'

President Nicolás Maduro was present at the preliminary meeting.

“We spoke openly, directly and respectfully,” said Maduro, according to the Noticias24 news website. “There were moments of tension, but we agreed to begin a cycle of meetings.”

Maduro said formal talks had been provisionally set for Thursday but that the government was not “negotiating” with the opposition and had no intention of veering off the course set by predecessor Hugo Chávez.

“This is not a negotiation, nor a deal with anyone. What we will have is a debate, dialogue,” Maduro said.

Some of the MUD-affiliated opposition parties voiced their skepticism over the talks, and again refused to take part until detained members of their parties are released from prison.

Among the parties opposed is Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), whose leader Leopoldo López has been in custody since February 18, after handing himself into the authorities to face charges over his role in anti-government street protests, which have called for Maduro to step down as president.

López sent a message from his military prison cell outside Caracas late Tuesday, through his wife, saying he “believed in dialogue” but that it should one “of equals.”  

But the MUD's executive secretary Ramón Guillermo Aveledo rebutted accusations that the group was somehow giving credibility to “for-show” talks with the ruling regime:

“We must be willing to listen to each other so that this dialogue doesn't fail, or we will lose the opportunity for Venezuelans to resolve the situation in a reasonable way,” Aveledo told Unión Radio.

Anti-government protests in a number of Venezuelan cities have now entered their third month, sparked initially by a student protest in the western city of San Cristóbal but which later spread to a string of other cities, including the capital.

As well as calling for Maduro's resignation, demonstrations have demanded an end to the country's soaring crime rate, the world's worst rate of inflation and the lack of a number of staple products.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency