Venezuela opposition skips planned meeting with government

AP News
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Posted: Dec 06, 2016 7:33 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition walked away from a meeting with the government Tuesday, endangering ongoing talks aimed at diffusing the country's political crisis.

Opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said that the coalition opted not to attend Tuesday's sit-down because the government has not made any concessions more than a month into the mediation effort.

The Vatican-sponsored dialogue is aimed at steering the country away from violence as a majority of voters want socialist President Nicolas Maduro out, and the government refuses to allow a recall referendum to proceed.

The opposition has demanded that the government release political prisoners and allow a vote. Opposition leaders have made concessions including suspending planned street protests, ending a symbolic impeachment effort in congress and giving up the effort to seat three contested lawmakers.

"It would be insincere to keep sitting there as if nothing has happened," Torrealba said.

The talks come as the government is under increasing international pressure to show respect for the democratic process. On Friday, South American nations suspended Venezuela from the Mercosur trade group over what they said was its failure to comply with commitments made when it joined the group in 2012.

That strong rebuke from Venezuela's one-time friends could open the door to stronger action from other regional players. The head of the Organization of American States has for months threatened to move against Venezuela for its increasing authoritarianism and some U.S. Congress members are calling for additional sanctions.

Earlier in the week, the wives and mothers of Venezuela's highest-profile political prisoners chained themselves to the Vatican to demand the release of imprisoned activists.

On Monday, powerful socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello suggested the government is also chafing at the talks. He said the cardinal involved in the effort is spending too much time with the opposition taking a high-handed approach with the government.

"It's irresponsible and disrespectful to think the Vatican is going to tutor Venezuela. When we say we're free and have sovereignty, it's because we're free and have sovereignty. We don't accept anyone trying to teach us," he said.

The two sides have tried dialogue during previous crises with little effect, and hope is already fading for the current talks. Although Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame Maduro for their economic woes, the ruling party has almost complete control of institutions like the courts and the military and has shown no interest in yielding to the opposition.

The mediation effort began shortly after critics of Maduro paralyzed the capital with a massive street protest, and many of the young people who were ready to keep taking to the streets believe the process is just a stalling tactic to allow the government to diffuse the opposition's momentum and regroup.

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Hannah Dreier is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hannahdreier. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/hannah-dreier .