Venezuela talks in the balance as US ups pressure on Maduro
For weeks, representatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his would-be successor, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, have been shuttling back and forth to Barbados trying to agree on a common path out of the country’s prolonged political stand-off.
The meetings have been slow-going and shrouded in mystery, with neither side disclosing details. But now, Maduro’s supporters are accusing the US of trying to blow up the fragile process.
The purported explosive: sweeping new sanctions that freeze all of the Maduro government’s assets in the US and even threaten to punish companies from third countries that keep doing business with his socialist administration.
“They’re trying to dynamite the dialogue,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Tuesday at a news conference to denounce comments by US National Security Adviser John Bolton defending the asset freeze. “But nobody, not even 1,000 Trumps or 500 Boltons ... will make us abandon the negotiating table.”
Building on its role as a facilitator of Colombia’s peace process, Norway, in May, managed to overcome deep distrust arising from past failed attempts at dialogue and bring the two sides together in Oslo. Talks have since moved to the Caribbean island of Barbados, where the fifth round wrapped up last week.
Neither side has said much about what is being discussed, although speculation has swirled in political and diplomatic circles that Maduro’s envoys have expressed a willingness to call an early presidential election under a revamped electoral board and foreign observation. The US has insisted Maduro must give up power before any elections can be deemed credible.
Three people involved in the talks from different sides have described the environment as serious and cordial, with each delegation dining and traveling back and forth to the island from Caracas separately. All three insist progress has been made, even if the thorny topic of elections is being left for last and an all-encompassing deal based on a six-point agenda is some way off. The people agreed to speak to The Associated Press only on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to divulge details of the talks.
Such insider accounts differ sharply from the assessment of Bolton and other hardliners inside the Trump administration who have accused Maduro of using the talks to buy time.
“We will not fall for these old tricks of a tired dictator,” Bolton declared Tuesday at a meeting in Peru of more than 50 governments aligned against Maduro. “No more time for tap, tap, tapping. Now is the time for action.”