Venezuela reports progress in new crisis talks
AFP , Wednesday 16 Apr 2014
Venezuela's Vice President Jorge Arreaza, center, accompanied of Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, right, Brazil's Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, third right, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, fourth right, and Colombia's Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, fifth right, prepares to speak to the media after a closed door meeting between the government and opposition representatives in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April. 15, 2014 (Photo: AP)
Venezuela's government and opposition reported progress Tuesday in a new round of talks aimed at ending two months of deadly protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation.
The government again rejected an opposition demand for amnesty for 175 people arrested in the disturbances. But the head of the government delegation, Vice President Jorge Arreaza, left the possibility open for the future.
"The meeting was always held on good terms, with respect and tolerance," said Arreaza. "The peace dialogue is advancing."
The opposition formally condemned violence, a key demand of the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
It also agreed to broaden a truth commission probing the unrest. The government had wanted it to include just lawmakers, but has bowed to opposition requests to add outside figures.
Anti-government protests have rattled Venezuela since February, leaving at least 41 people dead and more than 600 injured, with opposing sides trading blame for the violence.
Protesters are angry over soaring crime, shortages of basic goods and rampant inflation, among other woes.
Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, a representative of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity (MUD), said the talks were challenging.
"But we are willing, as shown today, to find windows and try to build paths together," said Aveledo.
The elected socialist government and the opposition held preparatory talks on April 7, which were followed by an unprecedented televised meeting between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leaders, including the runner-up in last year's presidential election, Henrique Capriles.
Tuesday's closed door meeting lasted three hours. Foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations had pressed both sides to hold talks.
But after the first full blown session Tuesday nothing was said of another key sticking point: opposition calls for the disarmament of pro-government civilian groups accused of terrorizing the protesters.
Maduro has refused, saying the so-called "colectivos" were merely "social work groups."
Maduro succeeded late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last year.
The more radical wing of the opposition, which is seeking Maduro's ouster through the street protests, has refused to join the talks.
They have called for the release of their most prominent leader, Leopoldo Lopez of the Popular Will party, who is in a jail on charges of inciting violence.
The protests first erupted on February 4 in the western city of San Cristobal, where students took to the streets to denounce the country's rampant crime after the attempted rape of a young woman.
The movement spread to other cities, including Caracas.
Maduro has lashed out at the demonstrations, branding them a "fascist" US-backed plot to overthrow his government.
Yet the protests do not appear to have posed a threat to Maduro's hold on the government, which has enjoyed wide support among the country's poorer sectors.
OPEC member Venezuela sits atop the world's largest proven crude oil reserves.