Talks in Norway this week with representatives of Venezuela‘s government and the opposition sought to “build a peaceful agenda” for the crisis-stricken South American country, President Nicolas Maduro has said.
Norway’s foreign ministry, which has a tradition of conflict mediation, said earlier on Friday that the talks were in an “exploratory phase”.
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The representatives of each side arrived in the Nordic country this week, signalling a fresh approach to ending months of tension that escalated after a failed uprising last month led by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who called on the military to overthrow Maduro.
So far this year, dozens of people have been killed in opposition protests against Maduro’s government. An economic downturn has driven more than three million Venezuelans to emigrate, fleeing hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.
The ruling socialist party, PSUV, which has long said it is open to dialogue, has endorsed the talks.
But many sectors of the opposition remain sceptical, arguing that Maduro has in the past used dialogue as a stalling tactic to maintain his grip on power as living standards steadily declined in the oil-rich nation.
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the government is ready to sit in Oslo or “anywhere else”.
“All initiatives are possible with our constitution on the table,” Arreaza told Al Jazeera’s correspondent Lucia Newman.
“Not with a pistol, not with an imperial order, but with our constitution. The options that the [US and the opposition] are proposing are not in the constitution,” he added.
Deep power struggle
Venezuela was thrust into a deep power struggle in January when Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
The United States and many European countries have recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader, but Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the top brass, as well as allies such as Russia, Cuba and China.
Opposition legislator Stalin Gonzalez and two advisers represented Guaido’s side, while Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez and Miranda State Governor Hector Rodriguez went to Oslo on behalf of the government.
Each side met separately with Norwegian mediators but there was no meeting between government and opposition representatives, Gonzalez told local media. It was not immediately clear if the mediation would continue.
Speaking to members of the armed forces, Maduro said his representatives “went to Norway to lead Venezuela’s delegation at the start of an exploration into a conversation and dialogue with the Venezuelan opposition to build a peaceful agenda for the country.”
Guaido was more tepid, tweeting on Thursday that any “mediation initiative” should begin with the “end of the usurpation”, a reference to Maduro resigning.
Guaido has expressed a growing openness to potential US military intervention to resolve Venezuela’s crisis and said his envoy to Washington would meet the US military’s Southern Command next Monday.
Guaido said he would meet diplomats from European and Latin American countries who arrived in Caracas this week as part of the so-called International Contact Group on Venezuela.