US Secretary of State John Kerry has denied that Washington is behind the recent protests in Venezuela, adding that tensions between the two countries have lasted too long.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro convened a peace conference on Wednesday night with social and political actors in an attempt to end three weeks of sometimes deadly anti-government protests in the deeply divided country.
“Regrettably, President Maduro keeps choosing to blame the United States for things we are not doing or for things that they are unhappy about in their own economy and in their own society,” Kerry said on Wednesday, reported the AFP news agency.
Maduro has pushed for a renewal of ties between the two countries, which have not had full ambassadors since 2010, reflecting the bad blood between the trade partners since late president Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999.
“We’re prepared to have a change in this relationship, this tension between our countries has gone on for too long,” Kerry said. “But we are not going to sit around and be blamed for things we have never done.”
In Caracas, Maduro welcomed Kerry’s reference to better ties.
“I welcome the response by Secretary of State John Kerry (on) improving ties to Venezuela,” Maduro said at crisis talks largely spurned by the opposition.
End the violence
Among the latest world figures to speak out about the unrest, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis called on Wednesday for an end to violence that has killed at least 13 people and urged politicians to take the lead in calming the nation’s worst unrest in a decade.
Students and other opponents of President Maduro are demanding that he quit over grievances including high inflation, shocking levels of violent crime, shortages of basic food, and what they say is his repression of political rivals.
The protests are the biggest challenge to Maduro’s 10-month-old administration, although there is no sign they could topple him or affect the OPEC nation’s oil shipments.
Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square he was “particularly concerned” by recent events, reported the Reuters news agency.
“I sincerely hope the violence and hostility ends as soon as possible, and that the Venezuelan people, beginning with the responsible politicians and institutions, act to foster national reconciliation through mutual forgiveness and sincere dialogue,” Francis said during his weekly address.
UN head Ban Ki-Moon called for “concrete gestures by all parties to reduce polarisation”, engage in dialogue and “seek common ground,” a statement to Reuters said.