By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Representatives of the Nicolas Maduro administration signed an agreement to hold snap Presidential elections by the end of April but couldn’t get the opposition -- the necessary party in the negotiations -- to do the same Tuesday night in Dominican Republic.
Maduro’s chief representative, propaganda minister Jorge Rodriguez, had said earlier that the agreement was ready to be signed and had a table set up with two pens for the occasion. But the opposition didn’t bite and talks with resume again Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Santo Domingo.
Rodriguez admitted that there is still no firm date for the Presidential election, after four hours of negotiations Tuesday. Upon arriving to the meeting, Rodriguez had produced a pen and told reporters assembled at the Dominican Republic’s foreign office (where the meetings are being held) that he was ready to sign.
Opposition negotiator Julio Borges said the guarantees for free and fair Presidential elections were just not there in that document, which Delcy Rodriguez, the top negotiator’s sister and the president of the Constituent Assembly (a supra-Constitutional body the opposition does not recognize), signed Tuesday night by herself.
“If we have had this many meetings and an agreement has not been signed it is because we consider that what’s there, in that document, is unworthy of the Venezuelan people,” Borges said after exiting the meeting.
No Venezuelan TV channel carried Borges’ statements: opposition figures hardly ever appear as Maduro has imposed fierce censorship. “We have the enormous responsibility of getting all Venezuelans to have a say on their future.”
Rodriguez claimed that the opposition has not signed the agreement because of an “embarrassing” phone call Borges received ordering him not to sign from Bogota. “Well, I don’t have to remind you that (US Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson is in Bogota right now, you are all probing journalists,” Rodriguez said after the non-signing of the agreement, in a high-pitched voice, rolling his eyes and waving the alleged agreement around. His statements were carried by all TV stations in their entirety.
The Maduro administration is eager to have sanctions imposed on it (including on Nicolas Maduro himself) by the US, Canada and the European Union lifted and Tuesday’s contretemps only delay that respite.
Borges denied that a mysterious phone call from Bogota, or anywhere really, had derailed the agreement. “We are not susceptible to phone calls from outside. Real Venezuelans do not receive orders from the United States, or from Cuba for that matter (one of Maduro’s key allies), only from the Venezuelan people,” he said.
The opposition has been insisting on naming a new electoral board, having international observers from the OAS and European Union monitor the vote and the release of all political prisoners and the opening of a humanitarian aid channel, while the Maduro government wants the opposition to recognize the Constituent Assembly as lawful and enlist their help in getting the U.S. and other countries to lift the sanctions.