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Why did Venezuela's opposition freeze talks with Maduro?

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Fernando Llano/AP

(Read caption) An anti-government demonstrator is handcuffed after he and others where detained by the Bolivarian National Guard, during clashes at a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

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 David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.

Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, secretary general of the coalition of opposition parties Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), unexpectedly held a press conference yesterday to say the “dialogue is in crisis” and the opposition will not meet with the government until it gives “concrete demonstrations” that it is interested in making progress. The round of talks between the government and the opposition were supposed to continue this Thursday with the presence of the UNASUR and Vatican representatives.

Mr. Aveledo did say the MUD will meet this Thursday with the commission of foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador, and the Vatican representative, that is mediating the dialogue “in order to explain the situation to them.”

In his press conference Aveledo detailed a long list of grievances that he says have been addressed during the talks, but not acted upon by the government. Foremost among them is the release of former Police Chief Iván Simonovis, jailed for the deaths of protesters in the April 2002 coup.

On Sunday Aveledo publically announced that the “dialogue is worth it” because it would soon produce results, for example the release of Mr. Simonovis on humanitarian grounds. But the next day Caracas mayor Jorge Rodríguez, participating in the dialogue on the government’s side, denied in a press conference that the Simonovis issue was even on the table.

The MUD is also asking for charges against protesters to be dropped, the deferral of discussion of a new law of territorial organization, and the conformation of a Truth Commission that is “trustworthy for all the parties.” The government has proposed a Congressional Truth Commission with a representation of the opposition. But the MUD argues it should be an independent and non-partisan.

Street mobilization has diminished since the dialogues began, but the cycle of student protests and heavy handed police responses has continued. A week ago, several “liberty camps” set up by students were raided and 243 people were arrested. Most have since been conditionally released, but about a dozen are still being held on charges of terrorism, using minors for criminal acts, and drug possession.

Perhaps the most important cause of the MUD’s announcement was mounting criticism stemming from Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson’s suggestion that sectors of the opposition had asked the State Department not to pursue sanctions at this time.

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For many opposition radicals one of the driving motivations of the protest movement has been to push foreign governments to take action against what they consider a repressive dictatorship. Thus the possibility that the MUD might have negotiated behind the scenes to prevent US sanctions only reinforces radicals’ distrust of opposition leadership.

Opposition commentator Juan Nagel wrote that all of the reasons Aveledo gave for suspending the dialogue have been there for some time. He suggested the MUD needed to “throw a bone to the radicals in order to appease them for a while.” Perhaps further righting the ship, yesterday Ms. Jacobson clarified her statement saying she had received recommendations to avoid sanctions, but from people outside of the dialogue process.


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