Vatican seeks to revive faltering Venezuela talks

CARACAS (Reuters) - A Vatican representative sought on Tuesday night to rescue faltering talks between Venezuela’s leftist government and the opposition, after President Nicolas Maduro’s rivals said they would sit out further meetings unless concessions were made.

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Venezuela’s opposition snubbed a scheduled meeting with government officials on Tuesday, saying the government’s earlier electoral and foreign aid promises had not been kept.

Hopes for real rapprochement during the formal talks, which began in October with facilitators from the Vatican, have always been slim.

The two sides are at loggerheads, with the opposition seeking the ouster of socialist Maduro, while authorities have vowed he would not leave office before his term ends in 2019.

“We’ll only sit down with the government again once they meet what was agreed on,” opposition coalition leader Jesus Torrealba said after a meeting with facilitators.

The two sides had previously reached tentative agreements, including potentially letting foreign donors provide food and medicine to the country and working toward replacing directors of the national elections authority, whom the opposition has called government puppets. The opposition has also pushed for the release of what it says is over 100 jailed activists. A few have been released since the start of talks, but the opposition said it was insufficient.

Both sides, however, will continue to meet with the dialogue’s facilitators, Torrealba said. He added that they had made proposals to restart the dialogue “so that it can be useful for the country and yield results.”

The Vatican’s envoy, Claudio Maria Celli, said after meetings with both sides that they would hold technical meetings until Jan. 13 to discuss issues including “justice and human rights” as well as “generating confidence in the electoral schedule.”

“We must begin a stage that will bring us towards the reactivation, consolidation and sustainability of dialogue,” said Celli, reading a statement supported by representatives of both sides. He did not provide details about the proposals.

Dialogue has divided the diverse opposition coalition, with some activists and politicians feeling the government was duping them to buy time.

The situation in oil-rich Venezuela has worsened in recent months, with a recession leaving millions unable to find or afford food amid shortages and spiraling inflation.

The opposition blames Maduro, who has an approval rating of around 20 percent, and has been vying to remove him via a recall referendum. The former bus driver and union leader has said the opposition is seeking a coup against him and has vowed to finish his term.

Reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker