Venezuela’s government and opposition leaders have agreed to continue talks in the first step of Vatican-sponsored dialogue on defusing a political crisis amid calls to remove President Nicolas Maduro.
With the mediation of the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations, the two sides agreed on Monday after hours-long talks on an agenda that includes a new meeting next month.
“Whether this dialogue has or does not have continuity will depend on concrete gestures from the government,” said Jesus Torrealba, executive secretary of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the opposition group taking part in the talks.
“The opening of this dialogue doesn’t mean by a long shot that the struggle will stop.”
Torrealba suggested that the opposition could reconsider holding a planned protest on Thursday in front of the Miraflores presidential palace.
In a sign that it is apparently serious about the talks, the government released five opposition members on Monday night who had been imprisoned.
However, none were important leaders and the opposition maintains that there are 100 “political prisoners” in Venezuela.
Maduro launched the talks on Sunday night at a museum in western Caracas, held in the presence of mediators from the Vatican and former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Some of Maduro’s rivals fear the talks could be a stalling tactic designed to ease pressure on the unpopular socialist leader, who many Venezuelans blame for triple-digit inflation and widespread food and medicine shortages.
Fifteen parties belonging to the Democratic Unity opposition alliance had boycotted the talks, saying they were not prepared to sit across from the government until it released jailed opposition activists and reversed its decision to cancel a constitutionally allowed recall referendum against Maduro.
“For an eventual dialogue to take place it has to be very clear from the outset that the aim is agreeing on the terms of a democratic transition in the remainder of 2016,” the parties said in a statement.
In recent weeks the opposition has been stepping up its campaign seeking to force Maduro from office.
Last week the opposition alliance rallied tens of thousands of supporters across the country.