Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has named a new foreign minister in a cabinet shake-up that comes amid negotiations with the opposition meant to ease the country’s political deadlock.
Felix Plasencia, Venezuela’s envoy to China, will now serve as Venezuela’s top diplomat, while outgoing Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza will serve as industry and production minister, President Maduro wrote on Twitter.
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Plasencia “has the immense responsibility of continuing the excellent diplomatic work carried out by Jorge Arreaza”, Maduro wrote.
“We must ensure the triumph of our Peace Diplomacy around the world.”
Maduro is pressing for the lifting of sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe against Venezuelan officials and institutions for the state’s suppression of democracy in the oil-producing South American country.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has maintained measures against Venezuela’s economy and continued support for opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Maduro’s latest cabinet shuffle also brings changes to the education, interior and mining ministries.
The opposition and the government last week opened talks in Mexico City in which the opposition is seeking improved electoral conditions and the release of imprisoned activists while Maduro allies are pushing for an end to US sanctions.
Maduro had on August 16 expressed optimism about talks with the opposition, saying at a news conference in Caracas the discussions had got off to a “good start”.
Maduro brandished an agreement signed by government and opposition delegates at the talks, which are being mediated by Norway and hosted by Mexico.
“We took the first step: dialogue with those who wanted to kill and overthrow us. In what part of the world does this happen? We have sat down to see the faces of those who wanted to kill us,” Maduro said.
He said the negotiations were “already successful”. The discussions are set to resume in three weeks.
Us Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who discussed the outlook for Venezuela with Guaido in March, welcomed the talks in a tweet on August 14.
The announcement of negotiations between Venezuela’s democratic opposition and the Maduro regime is a welcome first step toward restoring democracy. We join the EU and Canada in urging parties to reach enduring agreements that lead to the democratic future Venezuelans deserve.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) August 14, 2021
The opposition wants Maduro to release dozens of people it considers political prisoners and provide guarantees its candidates can run in regional elections due in November.
Guaido, who declared himself Venezuela’s president in 2019 through his position as parliament speaker, wants guarantees over electoral conditions and a clear programme for presidential elections.