Venezuelan Government, Opposition Enter Talks in Hopes of Ending Crisis

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 16-May-2019

The Venezuelan government and opposition have sent envoys to Norway to attend talks on ways of ending the South American country’s crisis, though their mutual mistrust and differences on key issues are likely to slow chances of progress.

The development reported by officials Wednesday appeared to reflect a recognition that neither side had been able to prevail in the struggle for power, leaving Venezuela in a state of paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

It was also a policy reversal for the opposition, which has accused President Nicolás Maduro of using previous negotiations to play for time.

Senior members of both sides will be involved in the exploratory discussions in Oslo, said members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. Delegations from the two opposing camps had received separate invitations from a group of Norwegians, one official said.

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The representatives include Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez on the government side and Stalin González, a leading member of the National Assembly, the officials said.

Maduro did not directly comment on the talks during televised remarks, but he said Rodríguez was on a “very important” mission outside Venezuela.

The planned talks seemed likely to dampen speculation that the United States, the main backer of the Venezuelan opposition, might be considering military action as a way to end the crisis in the near term. U.S. officials have previously said they are focusing on diplomatic and economic measures to force out Maduro, though opposition leader Juan Guaidó said his Washington envoy will meet with the head of the U.S. Southern Command on Monday.

The two sides are currently far apart on many issues. The opposition has insisted that Maduro was illegitimately elected last year and that he must step aside to make way for elections. Maduro, in turn, accuses the opposition of being U.S. stooges intent on illegally seizing power.

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The Norway dialogue comes as a mostly European group of nations prepares to send a high-level delegation to Venezuela to propose solutions to the country’s protracted crisis. The International Contact Group consists of eight European countries, the European Union and four Latin American countries.

The group formed after Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, declared himself Venezuela’s interim president early this year in a direct challenge to the rule of Maduro, who says his government champions the socialist principles of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

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