President Maduro and key government figures hold landmark talks with opposition group in a bid to end over two months of anti-government unrest
SAO PAULO, Brazil - Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro and key government figures sat down for breakthrough talks with members of the opposition late Thursday evening to begin a cycle of meetings and dialogue to find a solution to the ongoing political crisis.
The talks hosted at the presidential Miraflores Palace in the capital, Caracas, went on for six hours, with a total of 22 members of the government and opposition alternating to voice their opinions on the situation.
Cities across the country have now seen over two months of violence and 40 people, on both sides, have been killed amid protests calling for Maduro to step down, as well as demanding an end to the high crime rate, economic chaos, shortages and restrictions on freedom of speech.
The talks were broadcast live on national channels, a key condition set by the opposition before they would begin dialogue.
Maduro opened the talks with a 30-minute monologue which signaled little hope of a major breakthrough. Agreeing to any major changes with the opposition would be taken by some as traitorous to former president Hugo Chávez and the brand of Socialism he had forged.
“There are no negotiations here,” the president said. “No pacts. We are seeking a model of mutual tolerance.”
Maduro continued that, as president, he was able to solve all of Venezuela's problems, whether natural or “incited,” a reference to the protesters and likely also the United States, whom he has accused of stoking unrest in the country and of staging a coup.
“These weeks have for us been ones of pain, of concern, but now the Bolivarian forces are more united that ever,” Maduro concluded, calling on the opposition to renounce violence.
-'Dialogue should be rule, not exception'
Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, executive secretary of the MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática) group of opposition parties, accused the ruling government of having a tight grip on the country's media and stymieing freedom of speech.
“It is only fair that the country gets to hear more than one voice,” Aveledo said, adding that something “very wrong” must have happened for such an event to have become a rarity and that “in a democracy, dialogue should be the rule, not the exception.”
More talks are expected next Tuesday.
Some opposition groups, most notably the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, had boycotted the events as “just for show,” and refused to take part until political figures and students jailed over their role in the protests were released.
- 'Half the people are against you'
Narrowly defeated in last year's president elections, opposition leader Henrique Capriles accused Maduro and the government of lying about the opposition's and protesters' intentions and desire for violence:
“We do not want a coup d'état,” Capriles said, adding that he did not want violence on the streets and hoped for a change in the current state of affairs, as “either this situation changes, or it blows up.”
Capriles also questioned Maduro's ability to govern given his attitude to the population:
“How can you ask the country to accept you if you call half the country 'fascists' and threaten them?” Capriles asked. “I think it is extremely difficult to govern a country where half the people are against you.”
Local pollsters Datanálisis said Maduro's approval rating was recorded at 41.5 percent in March, down around ten percentage points on last year, although added that no opposition figure had a rating of more than 40 percent, and that around 63 percent of those surveyed reject the protests, although not protesting per se.
As the talks went into the night, local media reported protests in Caracas.
Maduro said that protests are not the way to solve the crisis and that the only way to unseat him is through the ballot box. His six-year mandate runs through 2019.
Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency