Latin American nations seek Venezuela crisis mediation

SANTO DOMINGO/CARACAS (Reuters) - Various Latin American nations will join an attempt to mediate Venezuela’s political crisis in new talks later this month, the president of the Dominican Republic said on Thursday.

The Chancellor of the Dominican Republic Miguel Vargas (L), the President of Dominican Republic Danilo Medina (C) and Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (R) talk to the media, after participating in a meeting to resume brokered talks between Venezuelan government's and the opposition in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

Danilo Medina hosted high-level delegations from Venezuela’s feuding government and opposition for two days in the latest foreign-led effort to ease a standoff alarming the world.

“We advanced definition of an agenda on Venezuela’s big problems. A commission of friendly countries was agreed,” the Dominican leader told reporters, saying Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua would join the process with others to be announced.

The next talks would be held on Sept. 27, again in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, he added.

Mexico and Chile have been bitterly critical of President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government over rights and democracy issues, while fellow leftist-led Bolivia and Nicaragua are staunch allies.

Venezuelan’s government is eager to ease foreign censure of and its delegates came out of Thursday’s talks smiling.

“A dialogue of peace is being installed so that Venezuela can resolve its affairs among Venezuelans,” senior Socialist Party official Jorge Rodriguez told reporters.

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Earlier, opposition leaders, who faced a backlash from supporters after failed talks with Maduro last year, insisted they had only traveled to push long-standing demands, including a presidential election and the release of jailed activists.

Decrying Maduro as a “dictator” who has wrecked the OPEC member’s once-prosperous economy, Venezuelan opposition leaders led street protests earlier this year seeking his removal that led to the deaths of at least 125 people.

Maduro says they were seeking a coup with U.S. connivance.

Though both sides met the Dominican president this week, it was unclear if they had also sat down and talked together.

In a statement after Thursday’s meetings, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition said it had accepted an invitation by Medina and the United Nations to an “exploratory meeting” in the hope of advancing Maduro’s exit by constitutional means.

“Only through democratic and non-violent change will it be possible to overcome the current social and economic tragedy afflicting all Venezuelans,” it said.

The coalition said six countries would be acting as guarantors, and any final accord must include a date for a presidential vote, reform of the national electoral board, release of political prisoners, and emergency humanitarian aid.

Any agreement should go to a referendum, it added.

The government delegation included Delcy Rodriguez, leader of Venezuela’s all-powerful and pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly whose creation brought widespread foreign condemnation as it overrides the existing opposition-led congress.

The opposition delegation was led by Julio Borges, head of that congress, fresh from a trip to Europe where he was received by the leaders of Germany, France and Spain.

Maduro routinely calls for dialogue, but his adversaries suspect he may use talks as a stalling tactic to help his image without producing concrete results. A dialogue brokered by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the Vatican in 2016 did nothing to advance opposition demands.

Additional reporting by Diego Ore in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool