Talks Between Maduro & Opposition Offer Peace Hope

The Catholic church is acting as a mediator – showing divisions over tactics on the country’s right, writes JOHN HAYLETT

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pulled off a remarkable feat this week in persuading opposition politicians to join him at the Miraflores presidential palace.
The meeting late on Thursday night represented a victory for the president’s previously unappreciated diplomatic skills.
It followed the involvement, at Maduro’s request, of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) regional body, which sent a delegation on a two-day visit to Caracas seeking confirmation that all sides were serious about holding talks.
Unasur recommended that there should be “a witness of good faith to facilitate the dialogue between the
In response, government and the opposition led by defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles accepted that Vatican diplomat Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a former envoy to Venezuela, should be asked to play
that role.
In the event, the meeting proceeded with current Vatican representative Aldo Giordano as papal witness alongside the Brazilian, Colombian and Ecuadorean foreign ministers.
Pope Francis wrote a letter, which Giordano read out during the six-hour televised meeting.
“Violence can never bring peace to a country,” the pontiff declared.
“I’m aware of the restlessness and pain felt by so many people. I urge you not to get stuck in the conflict of the moment but open yourselves to one another to become true builders of peace.”
Maduro broke the ice at the encounter by welcoming participants, about 20 each from government and opposition, and shaking hands with all of them.
The president urged the opposition to join him in creating a climate of mutual respect and non-violence.
In turn, the United Democratic Roundtable (MUD) opposition alliance executive secretary Ramon Guillermo Aveledo complained that Maduro dominated the radio and TV airwaves with long speeches, making it nearly impossible for Venezuelans to hear other viewpoints.
Nevertheless, both sides agreed to meet again this Tuesday to continue their talks.
Maduro stressed the limits of efforts to build a dialogue, insisting: “There are no negotiations here. No pacts. All we’re looking for is a model of peaceful coexistence, of mutual tolerance.”
Even this is too much for the People’s Will party, led by Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Machado, which has spearheaded the violent disorder campaign to force Maduro’s removal as president. It refuses to talk.
Machado’s parliamentary immunity was lifted following her decision to represent Panama at the Organisation of American States, where she denounced her government.
Lopez, who is in jail charged with inciting violence and conspiracy, still has access to Twitter, telling his followers on Tuesday: “You cannot hold a dialogue while also holding political prisoners and engaging in political persecution.”
Capriles has urged the authorities to release Lopez and other opposition supporters arrested for their part in three months of violence, in which 40 people have been killed, the latest a police officer shot while clearing an opposition street barricade.
However, his decision to lead most of the opposition into peaceful dialogue with the government could indicate a growing division at the heart of anti-Chavista forces.
Despite the scale of bloodshed and the calculated impression created by Western agencies and social media, violence in Venezuela is localised, with barely a dozen municipalities out of 335 descending into well-planned chaos.
But the barricades preventing free movement, the blocking of normal supplies of food, the financial demands for free passage, the wanton destruction of trees and public property and the systematic armed attacks on security forces, local authority workers and anyone wearing Chavista colours contribute to a picture of a country
at war.
It has not been helped by malevolent or ill-advised comments from Washington and other Western bodies.
Amnesty International recently published a one-sided report into recent violence, accusing the government of a “witch-hunt” after opposition mayor Daniel Ceballos was arrested.
Ceballos, the mayor of San Cristobal and a member of People’s Will, was convicted and jailed for a year for involvement in the programme of violent opposition, colluding with those building barricades to block the streets.
Internal Affairs Minister Miguel Rodriguez pointed out: “A mayor is obliged to comply with the constitution and the law and to not foment violence, anarchy and civil rebellion.”
Were an elected mayor in Britain to act as Ceballos did, would Amnesty denounce a “witch-hunt?”
Venezuela’s conference of bishops president Monsignor Diego Padron took a similar unbalanced position, berating the government for trying to hide “the imposition of a totalitarian government.”
“What does the bishop’s conference want?” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua responded on Monday.
“That we don’t act? That we let children in a pre-school be burned? That all the universities are burned?
“That is why President Maduro wants to sit down with the opposition and that’s why the Catholic church should help,” he declared.
Dialogue that accepts that sharp political differences should not translate into unconstitutional efforts to thwart the people’s will as expressed through the ballot box may be the means that divides the Popular Will extremists from pro-constitution elements in the opposition.
Or it could be that Capriles-aligned opposition forces are playing a double game.
Whichever it is, supporters of the Bolivarian revolution in Britain have a responsibility to work with the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign to shed light on the government’s achievements and the dirty deeds of those who oppose it.

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