Venezuelan Socialists seek dialogue, opposition rebuffs

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party has for weeks been seeking a dialogue process with the opposition, according to four sources involved in the effort, but the opposition remains broadly skeptical of new talks following the failure of previous rounds.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers in Caracas, Venezuela October 18, 2018. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Three dialogue proceedings between allies of President Nicolas Maduro and his adversaries, the most recent of which collapsed in February, ended in bitter recriminations and complaints that Maduro used them to distract from human rights abuses and a five-year economic crisis.

In recent weeks, government allies approached opposition politicians, diplomats and church authorities to begin the process again, according to the sources, two of which are linked to the government and two to the opposition. All the sources declined to be identified.

One of the opposition sources said the government had made the first move to seek dialogue and the approach had Maduro’s support.

The effort indicates that Maduro’s government may be seeking to burnish its image in the run-up to the Jan. 10 inauguration for his second term following his re-election this year in a vote that was widely considered a sham.

The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The effort so far has involved preliminary talks associated with the Boston Group, an informal group of Venezuelan politicians from both sides of the political divide that was originally created in 2002 with the help of U.S. politicians from the state of Massachusetts.

The group is bringing in Harvard mediation expert Jim Tull to lead a coaching session for members of the Boston Group, which includes opposition and government legislators.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker urged renewed meetings of the Boston Group when he visited Venezuela in early October, according to two of the sources.

However, an internal Boston Group document warns that a “brainstorming committee” set up during Corker’s visit is not intended as a “tool of mediation, negotiation, arbitration or conflict resolution.”

“(The committee) provides ideas to representatives of these processes if they were to exist,” the document read.

Tull could not be immediately reached for comment. Corker’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment. Members of the Boston Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

As rumors of a dialogue plan grew over the weekend, three opposition parties issued a statement openly opposing any such effort.

Popular Will, Justice First and Radical Cause, in a statement on Sunday, said they opposed any dialogue on the grounds that conditions do not exist for “a fruitful mediation that can bring an end to the dictatorship.”

Henry Ramos of Democratic Action, another opposition party, told local media that government efforts to kick-start dialogue had flopped.

Additional reporting by Tibisay Romero in Valencia; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Angus Berwick and Marguerita Choy