SANTO DOMINGO – Progress is being made on various items of the agenda during talks between Venezuela’s government and the opposition in the Dominican Republic, the South American nation’s communications and culture minister said on Saturday.
“We made key advances on some points” of the six-point agenda during Friday’s session, Jorge Rodriguez said before entering the Dominican Foreign Ministry’s headquarters to take part in the second day of negotiations.
“We hope today’s session unfolds under the same conditions of frank discussion, of strong but cordial debate, among the participants,” Rodriguez said.
The minister is part of the official Venezuelan delegation to the talks along with the president of the plenipotentiary National Constituent Assembly (ANC), Delcy Rodriguez; Education Minister Elias Jaua; and a senior member of the Venezuelan diplomatic corps, Roy Chaderton.
President Nicolas Maduro’s administration persuaded the opposition to enter talks “aimed at reaching a future agreement for peaceful coexistence,” Rodriguez said, expressing confidence that “never again will violence be used to settle political differences, never again will unconstitutional methods and practices be employed to gain political power.”
“I think a coexistence agreement is something all Venezuelans undoubtedly are waiting for and would support,” Rodriguez added.
The closed-door talks are being held under the auspices of Dominican President Danilo Medina and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The opposition, for its part, has unveiled its priorities in the talks.
It says it wants the establishment of a humanitarian channel that – in coordination with international organizations and other countries – would allow the entry of badly needed food and medicine, which are scarce due to a crippling economic crisis and the government’s dwindling hard-currency reserves.
The opposition also wants a change in the composition of the National Electoral Council (CNE), which it contends is biased against the opposition; the release from jail of opposition members it says have been jailed for purely political reasons; and the restoration of constitutional powers that the ANC has stripped from the opposition controlled National Assembly (the unicameral legislature).
Maduro says the formation of the ANC, which took over the powers of the legislature in August, was necessary to lift Venezuela out of a deep political and economic crisis and bring peace to the country after months of opposition-led protests that led to at least 125 deaths.
But the opposition says the creation of that body, which first met in August, was merely a cynical ploy to sideline the national legislature.