Inflation and food shortages leave Venezuelans trapped in food queues or at the mercy of food smugglers.
Major factions of Venezuela’s opposition coalition have denied joining government-proposed talks, just hours after the group’s head agreed to hold dialogue with President Nicolas Maduro following intervention by the Vatican.
In a surprise move, Jesus Torrealba, the leader of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD), had agreed to join the dialogue proposed by the socialist Maduro following his meeting with Pope Francis.
But on Tuesdsay, Henrique Capriles, the two-time presidential candidate, said “no dialogue has begun in Venezuela,” adding that he had found out about the talks on television.
“These devils want to use the good faith of Pope Francis to buy more time,” he said.
Opposition leaders were caught off guard by Torrealba’s decision to join the talks on Monday, which are to be mediated by the Vatican, regional bloc the Union of South American Nations, and three former international leaders on the Caribbean island of Margarita.
“Dialogue cannot mean a government strategy to win time,” Torrealba said after meeting a Vatican envoy in Caracas. “It’s a space to fight for a better country for all.”
No official agenda of the talks was announced, but the opposition is bound to bring up complaints about the foiling of its bid to remove Maduro via a referendum and the sidelining of the National Assembly.
For its part, the government will probably reiterate its charge that its opponents are guilty of fraud, violence and coup plans.
Monday’s decision had aimed to calm tensions after the opposition accused Maduro of staging a “coup d’etat” by blocking its referendum bid.
The opposition members, who hold a majority in the legislature, had pledged to debate on Tuesday whether to mount a “political trial” against Maduro.
It is calling for nationwide protests for Wednesday as Venezuela’s third year of recession has paralysed the economy, with widespread food shortages and rising prices.
Maduro had a private audience with Francis at the Vatican on Monday.
He said afterwards that Francis had supported the opening of a “formal dialogue” between government and opposition.
Emil Paul Tscherrig, the Vatican envoy, said separately in Caracas that both sides had launched a “national dialogue”.
He said they aimed to formally open talks on October 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita.
Risk of violent unrest
Warnings have been sounded of an increased risk of violent unrest in Venezuela.
Clashes at anti-government protests in 2014 left 43 people dead.
On Monday a students’ group said 27 people were injured in clashes with police at an anti-government protest in the western city of San Cristobal.
Human Rights Watch, the international non-government group, says Venezuela is in a “profound humanitarian crisis”.
A report by the rights group published on Monday revealed that infant mortality and maternal mortality has surged in Venezuela due to a lack of of medical supplies.
“An increasing number of Venezuelans are looking for medical care in Colombia, in public hospitals along the border between the two countries,” said Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from Cucuta in Colombia.
“This is due to the worsening shortages of medical supplies in hospitals and pharmacies in Venezuela.”
Maduro calls the economic crisis a capitalist conspiracy.
In recession since the beginning of 2014, Venezuela’s economy is facing a contraction of 10 percent this year and inflation of 475 percent, rising to 1,660 percent next year, the IMF forecasts.
Maduro’s public support has fallen drastically. A recent poll found more than 75 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of him.