Venezuela's feuding sides in Dominican Republic for mediation bid

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 14, 2017 6:50 PM

By Jorge Pineda

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - Venezuelan government and opposition representatives spent a second day on Thursday at meetings in the Dominican Republic for another foreign-led attempt to end a bitter political crisis.

Though the delegations were high-level, they did not appear to have met each other, talking instead with Dominican officials and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has long been seeking to promote a rapprochement.

Officials of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, who are eager to ease foreign censure of their democratic credentials, said a new "dialogue" was underway.

But opposition leaders, who faced a backlash from supporters after failed negotiations with Maduro last year, insisted they had only traveled to push long-standing demands, including a presidential election and the release of jailed activists.

Decrying Maduro as a "dictator" who has wrecked the OPEC member's once-prosperous economy, Venezuelan opposition leaders led street protests earlier this year seeking his removal that led to the deaths of at least 125 people.

Maduro says they were seeking a coup with U.S. connivance.

In the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, both delegations were seen entering the foreign ministry on Thursday at different times. But journalists waiting for hours outside were left in the dark as to the details of talks.

"We're at a perfect time to reach a definitive accord," Venezuelan government representative Jorge Rodriguez, a senior Socialist Party official, said after arriving on Wednesday.

The delegation included his sister, Delcy Rodriguez, leader of Venezuela's all-powerful and pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly whose creation brought widespread foreign condemnation as it overrides the existing opposition-led congress.

The opposition side included Julio Borges, head of that congress, fresh from a trip to Europe where he was received by the leaders of Germany, France and Spain.

"There is no restart of dialogue," the opposition Democratic Unity coalition reiterated in a statement on Thursday, saying its representatives had been invited by Dominican President Danilo Medina purely to "explore" conditions for possible negotiations.

"The opposition coalition decided to send a delegation to meet President Medina in order to expound the objectives of the national democratic struggle," it said.

Maduro routinely calls for dialogue, but his adversaries see talks as a stalling tactic that helps his image without producing concrete results.

A dialogue process brokered by Zapatero and the Vatican in 2016 did nothing to advance opposition demands, which also include respect for the opposition-led legislature and measures to ease Venezuela's economic crisis.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)