The fifth round of negotiations between Venezuela’s government and the opposition was due to start Thursday, but it was suspended due to a combination of the opposition’s response to inflammatory accusations by the government and apparent scheduling difficulties.
According to Efecto Cocoyo, members of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) negotiating team say the decision was made partly because scheduling conflicts that would have prevented the presence of the Chilean and Mexican foreign ministers acting as opposition-selected observers. The MUD has repeatedly refused to meet with the Venezuelan government’s negotiating team without the presence of observers, preferring to negotiate in a formal, documented setting in the Dominican Republic.
The other factor in the decision came in the wake of the January 15 operation in which Venezuelan security forces (apparently acting in coordination with armed government supporters) killed fugitive police pilot Oscar Perez. Six other members of Perez’s small group of armed insurrectionists were killed, and the government claims five more were detained. Because videos posted online by Perez during the operation appear to show him calling out and attempting to surrender, there have been widespread accusations that he was extra-judicially killed. The government has rejected these accusations, claiming that Perez refused to turn himself in and was armed with military weapons.
The following day, Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol claimed that opposition leaders had tipped off authorities regarding Perez’s location “in the course of the dialogue.” The MUD rejected this claim in a statement, and challenged Reverol to present evidence for his allegations. On Wednesday, the opposition also sent a letter of complaint to Dominican President Danilo Medina, whose government has been sponsoring the negotiations. In it the MUD accuses the government of trying to sabotage the talks, and calls on Medina to “issue a call for mutual respect among the parties.”
The opposition was not alone in such posturing in the days before the scheduled talks. In his Monday state of the union address before the Constituent Assembly, President Nicolas Maduro claimed that the main points of an accord had already been agreed to, and suggested that this week’s talks may be the last that the government participated in. “I only call on the dialogue table to give the opposition another chance on Thursday, January 18, to give the opposition the last chance, because they want to continue wasting the country’s time, and that of the institutions,” said Maduro.
In the absence of the opposition and the Mexican and Chilean foreign ministers, Information Minister and official negotiating team member Jorge Rodriguez announced the government’s delegation would travel to the Dominican Republic anyway. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Bolivia and Nicaragua (observers selected by the government) met in Santo Domingo with their Dominican counterpart and former Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to discuss the timing of the next meeting. So far there has been no announcement regarding another round, though there have been a few unconfirmed reports that they could resume as soon this weekend.
It’s also important to note that on January 22, the Lima Group is set to meet in Santiago to assess the latest developments. The Chilean and Mexican foreign ministers are slated to report to the other 10 members of the regional grouping on the status of the talks, which could provide insight into their faith in the process—and inform the rest of the region’s position on the negotiations.