Chavismo and the Venezuelan opposition get closer to resume negotiations in Mexico | International

External view of a sculpture of an oil seesaw in front of a gas station, today, in Caracas (Venezuela).Miguel Gutierrez (EFE)

The lethargy in which Venezuela was submerged has been broken since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The story has sped up. This Tuesday, the president of the United States softened some sanctions on Venezuela to precipitate dialogue between the government and the opposition in Mexico, which was blown up by the arrest and subsequent extradition of Álex Saab, a businessman very close to Nicolás Maduro. The parties met to start up again that dialogue table with which it is intended to give a negotiated solution to the prolonged Venezuelan political crisis.

The United States continues to recognize the interim government of Juan Guaidó, but is aware that it needs to take realistic steps to advance in the democratization of the country and that a negotiated path seems the only feasible one today. The rapprochement between the opposition and the Government seems necessary. The most important advance in this regard took place this Tuesday, with the photo between the president of the National Assembly, Jorge Rodríguez, and the political leader Gerardo Blyde, of the Unitarian Platform. The parties are close to settling down again, although there are important stumbling blocks. The Chavista government has hinted that the release of Saab, detained in Florida awaiting trial, will be an essential condition. But in recent months the case has not returned to figure in the discourse. It seems difficult for the US to agree to something like this.

The first steps, however, have already been taken. The Biden government will allow the US oil company Chevron to negotiate a license with the state oil company, PDVSA, but not to drill or export oil of Venezuelan origin. In addition, Carlos Erik Malpica Flores, a high-ranking executive of the oil company and nephew of the first lady of Venezuela, Cilia Flores, will be excluded from the list of sanctioned persons. Until a little over a month ago, no one could imagine such gestures. As soon as the Russian offensive began, a delegation of senior White House officials traveled to Caracas to meet with Maduro. Those were the first steps on what is laying the foundation for everything that is to come.

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Rodríguez and Blyde tweeted the same photo and the same message: “In a work meeting for future plans. In the rescue of the spirit of Mexico”. The opposition group then released a statement in which they reiterate that the negotiation process “should never have been suspended.” “We reiterate our total willingness to urgently build a great political agreement that allows, through the democratic re-institutionalization of the country, the holding of free, fair and transparent elections and the restitution of fundamental rights for all Venezuelans,” the text states. .

Mexico’s negotiations were stalled in October last year, despite efforts by Norway and other international mediators. Chavismo got up from the table in protest at the extradition to the United States of Saab, alleged figurehead of Maduro. After the visit of Washington officials, on March 5, Maduro released two detainees of US nationality, one of them a former manager of Citgo, the PDVSA refinery in the United States. The relaxation of the sanctions was a gesture that had been expected since then, a real possibility in the midst of the energy market crisis due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As senior Biden officials have pointed out, the easing is not far-reaching. In June, the eighth renewal of exemptions from the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) to Chevron that allowed the company to remain in the country, although without activating, expired. According to what has been said now, the rope is loosened to open the possibility of talking with PDVSA about future activities. The Maduro government, however, has given a broad interpretation. “The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela has verified and confirmed the news published to the effect that the United States of America has authorized US and European oil companies to negotiate and restart operations in Venezuela,” said Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, pointing out the gesture as the beginning of a path for the absolute lifting of all sanctions that include, in addition to PDVSA, the Central Bank of Venezuela, other entities and more than a hundred officials and businessmen related to corruption, drug trafficking and human rights violations during Chavez. In a two-way game, Maduro sealed agreements a few weeks ago with Iran in the energy area, another country sanctioned by the US.

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The international and national pressure to resume the talks in Mexico has turned these agreements into the last gasp for the resolution of the Venezuelan crisis. A month ago, a group of businessmen, academics and human rights defenders sent a letter to Biden calling for a lifting of sanctions to boost the economic recovery of Venezuela, ruined after having reduced its GDP by 80% and with a humanitarian crisis that it becomes chronic. They also asked to return to Mexico, to which the United States responded through the Undersecretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the US State Department, Brian Nichols, with a new request for the parties to return to the table.

The Maduro government has not given major concessions to the opposition. Although the body of magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice was recently renewed, the vices in the procedure persist and most of the judges extend their mandates, so they continue to be under the control of Maduro. Despite a series of trickle-down releases, there are still more than 200 political prisoners in Venezuela. Electoral guarantees remain fragile, although there have been advances such as the authorization of international observation missions such as those that monitored the local elections last November.

When Maduro spoke of a “reset” of the dialogue in March, in concession to the pressure of the Biden Administration, he proposed the inclusion of new actors in the discussions, such as a sector of the opposition that has agreed with the Government and that has operated at the convenience of Chavismo, something that has been rejected by the sectors gathered in the Unitarian Platform and around Juan Guaidó. It remains to be seen if this now conditions the definitive reactivation of the talks.

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