Venezuela: Opposition boycotts dialogue amid fresh violence

September 29, 2017
A small group of masked opposition militants took to the streets of the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao in renewed anti-government roadblocks on September 25.

Venezuela’s right-wing opposition announced on September 26 that its representatives would not attend the upcoming round of exploratory talks that were set to be held in the Dominican Republic the following day. 

In an open letter to Dominican President Danilo Medina published on the website of the main anti-government coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), opposition leaders stated that “propitious conditions did not exist (for them) to attend” the meeting. 

In particular, the opposition justified its boycott by accusing the government of failing to release so-called “political prisoners”, despite there being no mutual agreement in this respect.

The Nicolas Maduro administration, for its part, maintains its right to prosecute opposition militants for their involvement in violent anti-government protests, both in 2014 and earlier this year. 

The MUD likewise pointed to alleged irregularities in preparations for October 15 gubernatorial elections, citing the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) decision to use electoral registers from the National Constituent Assembly elections on July 30, which the coalition says are not up to date. 

The MUD has also complained about the timetable for substituting candidates.

In spite of threats to boycott the regional elections over unsubstantiated allegations of fraud against the CNE, the MUD has actively cooperated with electoral authorities in the preliminary auditing process, certifying last week the reliability of voting machines and software. 

Additionally, the coalition explained its non-attendance by claiming that the government has yet to select its third “friend country” as part of the Group of Friend Guarantor Countries charged with mediating the dialogue process. 

Despite being published on the MUD’s official website, the letter was only signed by the four largest parties of the coalition - Democratic Action, A New Era, First Justice and Popular Will. 

The MUD boycott echoes the opposition’s walkout from a previous round of Vatican-mediated talks last November. At the time, the MUD accused the government of violating agreements, while the Maduro administration denounced the opposition for insisting on maximalist demands that were never part of the negotiated framework

Responding to the opposition no-show, National Constituent Assembly President Delcy Rodriguez accused the MUD of “following orders” from the “transnational right-wing”, which she said is bent on “damaging the dialogue process”. 

The past week has seen a ratcheting up of foreign pressure on Caracas, with US President Donald Trump adding top Venezuelan officials to his infamous travel ban list on September 24 and Canada imposing sanctions for the first time on September 22. 

On September 26, Trump reiterated his threats against Venezuela, urging the European Union to likewise sanction the South American country. 

Amid the intensifying international standoff, several regional governments, together with former Spanish President Jose Luis Zapatero, have sought to relaunch dialogue between the Maduro administration and the opposition. 

The first round of talks was held in Santo Domingo on September 13. 

The MUD has defended its participation in the dialogue as part a broader “strategy” to oust the elected “regime of Nicolas Maduro”, which includes “pressure in the streets, political negotiation, international pressure and electoral participation”. 

The MUD’s announced boycott came one day after a small group of masked opposition militants took to the streets of the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao in renewed anti-government roadblocks. 

Calling themselves “the Resistance”, the group blocked the principal Francisco de Miranda Avenue with piles of burning rubbish and vandalised public property. 

Speaking to journalists, one gas mask-clad youth blasted the MUD leadership for participating in dialogue and called for new anti-government protests: “We are taking to the streets because the shit politicians betrayed us … now they are negotiating with Nicolas Maduro, that’s not the way”. 

At least 126 people lost their lives in a wave of anti-government unrest aimed at removing the Maduro government between April and the end of July. Though the violence has subsided since the July 30 constituent assembly elections, the opposition has grown increasingly divided over the strategy going forward. 

While the main opposition parties have called off protests and agreed to participate in regional elections, more radical anti-government sectors have branded the move a betrayal and called for retaking the streets. 

In response to Monday’s protest, Venezuela’s Supreme Court issued a statement exhorting Chacao Mayor Gustavo Duque to comply with a May ruling ordering a string of opposition-controlled municipalities to remove anti-government roadblocks. 

Duque’s predecessor, Ramon Muchacho, was sentenced in August to fifteen months jail for failing to clear barricades in his municipality, which was one of the epicentres of anti-government violence.

Muchacho has fled to the United States where said called US military intervention in Venezuela “inevitable”.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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