November 12, 2016 / 11:00 PM / 3 years ago

Venezuela government, opposition reach tentative deals in dialogue

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s government and opposition on Saturday reached tentative deals in the areas of elections and foreign aid as part of a Vatican-backed dialogue process, though the agreements fell far short of initial opposition demands.

Vatican's representative Claudio Maria Celli (3rd R) speaks next to (L-R) Jorge Rodriguez, mayor of Caracas and representative of the Venezuelan government, former President of Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez, Carlos Ocariz mayor of Sucre district and representative of the opposition, UNASUR Secretary General Ernesto Samper and Panama's former President Martin Torrijos, during a meeting between the government and the opposition in Caracas, Venezuela November 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Allies of President Nicolas Maduro will consider letting foreign donors provide food and medicine to the crisis-hit country and work toward naming new directors to the national elections authority, which the opposition says favors Maduro.

“We agree to promote respectful political action,” said ruling Socialist Party Director Jorge Rodriguez, reading from a conciliatory joint statement agreed to by both sides. “The common good is above our legitimate differences.”

The steady decay of the OPEC nation’s economy and a growing political standoff over a referendum on Maduro’s rule led both the Vatican and U.S. diplomats to set up a dialogue in late October.

The two sides will meet again on Dec. 6, contrary to the opposition’s vow to walk away from the talks if the government did not set in motion a recall referendum on Maduro’s rule and release more than 100 jailed opposition activists.

They will work together to name two new members to the five-member elections board, which last month scuttled an opposition recall effort and escalated the country’s political standoff.

The government allowing foreign assistance effectively acknowledges the dire situation in Venezuela, where millions are struggling to eat three meals per day.

But rather than agreeing to the release of more than 100 jailed opposition activists, the joint statement made a vague nod to releasing detainees - without providing names or numbers.

The agreement also involves holding new elections for legislators from the state of Amazonas who were suspended from their posts by a court sentence last year. Maduro critics on Saturday called that an overly generous concession.

“I can’t stay quiet as I watch the way we give more oxygen to the dictatorship,” wrote opposition politician Reinaldo Diaz in a tweet that was retweeted by the official account of hard-line opposition party Popular Will.

The dialogue has been hailed in the international community for bringing the two sides to the table. But the talks may break down once the two sides begin serious discussions on the issue of the recall referendum, which Socialist Party officials have repeatedly ruled out.

(This version of the story corrects quote in paragraph 10 to say ‘we’ instead ‘the government’)

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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