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Venezuela’s opposition increasingly divided over talks with government

Popular Will fears international mediation is giving embattled President Maduro breathing room

Popular Will deputy Freddy Guevara.
Popular Will deputy Freddy Guevara. EFE

On Monday, the Vatican’s representative overseeing the talks between Venezuela’s opposition and government, Claudio Maria Celli, called on both sides to moderate their language and the tone of their comments when speaking to the media. His request has had little effect. On Wednesday evening, President Nicolás Maduro launched a scathing attack on television against the Popular Will party, which is boycotting the talks.

Referring to Freddy Guevara, a Popular Will deputy in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Maduro said: “He is a coward. He thinks parliamentary immunity will save him from being locked up in jail.” The president went on to describe Popular Will as a terrorist organization, calling on the police and security forces to act against what he called “the threat it represents.”

It is very worrying that after the first meeting everything is now paralyzed

Opposition leader María Corina Machado

Popular Will, whose leaders Leopoldo López and Carlos Vecchio are in jail and exile respectively, is part of the so-called G4, which controls the MUD opposition round table that brings together some 12 parties and groups.

The other three parties in the G4 are Democratic Action, led by Henry Ramos Allup, the president of the National Assembly; A New Time, led by former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales; and Justice First, led by another presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles.

“By attacking Freddy Guevara and Popular Will, the president is attacking the dialog and ridiculing the word of Pope Francis,” tweeted MUD secretary general Jesús Torrealba, dismissing President Maduro’s attacks as an attempt to divide the opposition’s approach to the talks, which are also being mediated by former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the ex-presidents of Panama and the Dominican Republic, Martín Torrijos and Leonel Fernández. The Vatican has played a key role in bringing the opposition and the government to the negotiating table for the first time in 18 months.

Popular Will, which was behind the street protests of spring 2014 that led to the deaths of 43 people, for which Leopoldo López is serving a jail term of nearly 14 years, has the support of many in MUD, who also believe that the decision to postpone a symbolic impeachment of Maduro in the National Assembly, along with a march planned for today, Thursday, on the Miraflores presidential palace, has simply given an unpopular government under increasing pressure from an electorate battered by years of economic crisis a breathing space.

Popular Will insists that the government is stalling for time and has no intention of conceding to any of the opposition’s demands, notably a recall referendum on Maduro’s mandate, along with international humanitarian aid and the release of political prisoners. Come on Venezuela, the party led by former parliamentarian María Corina Machada, supports Popular Will’s stance.

“I think this is a mistake, because with the parliament’s agenda, a country united on the streets, and international pressure would force the government to enter into genuine negotiations. It is very worrying that after the first meeting everything is now paralyzed,” Machado told EL PAÍS.

The MUD opposition brings together some 12 parties and groups

The situation changes quickly in Venezuela, and the opposition seems increasingly divided over recent decisions taken by MUD’s leadership. There have been accusations on social networks that some within MUD want to ease up the pressure on the government. At the same time, there is mounting doubt among the international mediators as to whether an opposition united in its desire to remove Maduro would be capable of working together to lead the country once he is out of the picture.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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