Venezuela’s president hopes a US deal will open the floodgates to foreign investment and help create jobs.
A plan for Venezuela’s government and opposition to sign a negotiating agreement in Mexico ran into trouble when the government rejected one of the opposition’s envoys.
Representatives of President Nicolas Maduro refused to join the meeting if Carlos Vecchio, ambassador to Washington for opposition leader Juan Guaido, remained on the delegation, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
Since Maduro doesn’t recognize Guaido’s shadow government or its embassies, Vecchio must either leave the delegation or abandon his role as ambassador, the government representatives told the opposition. Guaido’s delegates rejected the demand, the people said.
The plan has been for the two parties, already in Mexico, to spend the coming three days focused on a framework agreement. It would launch months of wide-ranging negotiations aimed at ending a five-year political impasse and addressing the nation’s economic collapse.
The preliminary round was due to start Friday. The document they expect to sign is a memorandum of understanding drafted by Norwegian mediators and the parties, according to five people with direct knowledge of the talks.
It sets terms for future meetings to discuss topics including relief from international sanctions, how to manage Venezuela’s frozen assets abroad, potential for financial aid, human rights and the schedule for upcoming elections, according to one of the people who requested anonymity as the details are not public.
The sides are trying to reach an accord ahead of elections on Nov. 21 for mayoral and gubernatorial posts across the country. Opposition parties have boycotted several previous votes, arguing they lacked basic safeguards to make them free and fair.
Stalin Gonzalez, former vice president of the National Assembly who will represent the opposition, said that once the memo is signed the sides will return to Mexico later this month or in early September to begin negotiations.
“The regime doesn’t have the capacity to solve this situation by itself,” he said of the country’s economic collapse. “We’ll look for ways to resolve this and help the people. It has to be a long-term agreement.”
Several previous rounds of negotiations ended in failure, including talks in Barbados in 2019, which were also overseen by Norway. This round has a better chance of succeeding as the two sides and foreign governments, including the U.S. and European Union, are more open to finding middle ground on issues like humanitarian assistance and human rights, said Maryhen Jimenez, a political scientist at the University of Oxford who studies Venezuela.
Maduro said he will send his son Nicolas Maduro Guerra and National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez to Mexico. Government lawmaker Francisco Torrealba, Miranda state Governor Hector Rodriguez, and a delegation from Russia will join the talks on the government’s behalf, according to the people.
Government representatives did not reply to requests for comment about goals for the talks. Maduro has called for the negotiations to lead to the lifting of all sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU, and recognition of his government’s legitimacy.
His negotiators will seek “sovereign solutions,” including a schedule for elections, he said on state television Thursday.
In addition to Gonzalez, the opposition will be represented by former legislator and one-time mayor of Baruta, Gerardo Blyde, and representatives from each of the main parties, and a team of negotiators from the Netherlands, the people said.
Other opposition envoys are Tomas Guanipa for Justice First, Luis Rondon for A New Time, Luis Moreno for Democratic Action, Mariela Magallanes for the minority parties, and Vecchio for Popular Will. As a first sign of understanding, Roberto Enriquez, who took refuge at the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas under a grant of asylum for more than four years, will attend the meetings for Copei. Guanipa, who was Guaido’s ambassador to Colombia, resigned his post to participate in the talks.
In addition to Russia and the Netherlands, the U.S., Canada, Turkey, Germany and Bolivia will monitor the talks but play no active role in the negotiations, one of the people said, describing them as a group of friendly nations.
Mexico was chosen as the venue because it is considered neutral ground by both sides.
(Updates with fight about Vecchio’s presence in talks in first three paragraphs, and with names of parties’ envoys in 14th paragraph)