Sat | Jul 4, 2020

Virus forges rare accord among bitter rivals

Published:Thursday | June 4, 2020 | 12:06 AM
Pedestrians and commuters wearing face masks amid the new coronavirus pandemic crowd a sidewalk near a bus stop in Caracas, Venezuela on Monday. (AP)
Pedestrians and commuters wearing face masks amid the new coronavirus pandemic crowd a sidewalk near a bus stop in Caracas, Venezuela on Monday. (AP)

CARACAS (AP):

President Nicolás Maduro and Venezuela’s opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, have agreed to a measures for battling the new coronavirus to be overseen by international health workers, a first step in years toward cooperation between bitter political rivals for the benefit of the country.

While focused narrowly on the pandemic response, experts said Wednesday the agreement opens a window of hope for tackling Venezuela’s overarching political stalemate that has left the once-wealthy oil nation in deepening economic and social crisis.

Geoff Ramsey of the Washington Office on Latin America think tank said it’s the first major agreement successfully forged in recent years between Maduro and the opposition.

“It’s hard to overstate how important this is for Venezuela,” Ramsey said.

Venezuelans are increasingly losing patience with the lack of progress in finding a political solution, he said, adding that this agreement could next lead to more badly-needed humanitarian assistance and create momentum for negotiations for a political solution to the crisis.

“If they can negotiate a humanitarian accord, the next step would be to negotiate conditions for free and fair elections,” Ramsey said. “It seems like both Maduro and the opposition are beginning to see that they can’t simply sit back with their arms folded and blame the other side.”

The one-page agreement signed June 1 says both sides will work in coordination to find funds for fighting the coronavirus. It is signed by Maduro’s health minister, Dr Carlos Alvarado, and Dr Julio Castro, who represents the Guaidó-led National Assembly.

It was also signed by Dr Gerardo de Cosío, the head of the Venezuela office of the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, which will oversee the cooperation.

“This document is, I hope, a step to move forward to a level of collaboration of both sides,” Dr De Cosio told The Associated Press. “This is one milestone of many more to be reached.”

Venezuela has been in a political crisis for years, and early last year Guaidó claimed presidential powers as head of the National Assembly, backed by the US among nearly 60 nations, which say Maduro holds power illegally due to an undemocratic election.