In a surprise move, Maduro traveled to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis, at the same time that an envoy from the Holy See visited Caracas to meet with some of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) leadership. The unannounced diplomatic shuffle resulted in the announcement that the Vatican had succeeded in convincing the MUD and the PSUV to sit down for a round of dialogue that will start on October 30 on Margarita Island.
The stunning announcement came from Vatican envoy Emil Paul Tscherrig shortly after he concluded his meeting with the opposition in Caracas. Tscherrig read a prepared statement to the press in the early afternoon, saying:
Presided over monseigneur Emil Paul, sent by His Holiness, the national dialogue begins today.
During a meeting between representatives from the government and the opposition conducted with the goal of establishing the conditions to hold a meeting on Margarita Island on October 30 of 2016 [sic]. The following entities participated in the meeting, which was conducted under the auspices of UNASUR which was represented by its director of political affairs: the Holy See; the ex-presidents of Spain, Jose Luis Zapatero; of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez; and of Panama, Martin Torrijos.
Within this context and in order to facilitate the work between the government and the opposition, these entities presented a proposal which included the premises, topics, methodology and schedule of the dialogue, which will be based on exploratory meetings.
At the same time, the parties involved agreed to work together to guarantee the security and peaceful and democratic development of the public protests that are expected to take place in the next few days.
The meeting took place under a climate of respect, cordiality and political will to drive this process forward, which has as its essential objective all Venezuelans, their future, the overcoming of financial, social, political, and institutional challenges which is fundamental for the democratic co-existence that Venezuelan society requires.
The objective of the dialogue is the research for common ground, the creation of a climate of trust, the overcoming of division and [the creation of] a mechanism to guarantee peaceful co-existence.
Those of us who attended the meeting make an emphatic call on the government and the opposition so that all of the agreements reached will be kept, and invite all actors who have taken part in the exploratory phase and who have reiterated their willingness to engage in dialogue to continue to participate with the same eagerness.
Below, an image of Maduro being blesses by Pope Francis in the Vatican earlier today:
Today’s announcement comes after a week of marked deterioration in the political situation in the country. Last week, the Consejo Nacional Electoral postponed two electoral process (the regional elections and the recall referendum), launching renewed calls from the opposition sector that Venezuela had become a dictatorship. In response, the National Assembly held a meeting yesterday that – aside from being briefly interrupted by a large crowd of government supporters who stormed the legislature – resulted in the assembly declaring “a break in the constitutional order” of Venezuela.
The head of the MUD, Jesus Torrealba, said today following the announcement of the dialogue:
It is clear that we have a clear agenda today for the restoration of constitutional order in the country (…) the dialogue must create a space for everyone to fight to build a better country for everyone.
The conditions under which the dialogue will take place were not revealed.
Some MUD Politicians Seemingly Blindsided By Dialogue Announcement
A number of MUD politicians appear to have been wholly unaware that their bloc was working on a dialogue with the government through the Vatican, leaving them to find out about the measure through the news.
National Assembly deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia reacted negatively to the news, and asked through Twitter:
Who authorized Chuo Torrealba [the head of the MUD] to meet with the government today? The country found out about it through the media.
At the same time, jailed Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma called the announcement “regrettable”, since in his opinion it means that the recall referendum effort against Maduro is now dead.
Since the details of the conditions for the dialogue are currently unknown, some on the opposition are speculating that the MUD must have made concessions in order to get the PSUV to sit down and talk.
Hector Rodriguez Hopes Dialogue is Beginning of “New Chapter”
National Assembly PSUV deputy Hector Rodriguez reacted positively to news of the dialogue today. In an interview that aired on the VTV state-owned network, Rodriguez said:
We congratulate them [the opposition] for sitting down at the dialogue table, and hope that this decision that they have taken is the start of a new chapter within the framework of the Constitution, [a chapter] that will create peace for the people, [and] democratic institutions. We all fit within the Constitution.
Capriles Provides Details for Wednesday’s Caracas Protest
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles gave new details about Wednesday’s planned protest in Caracas, which the opposition is calling the “Toma de Venezuela” [the Takeover of Venezuela].
Capriles announced that the rallying points for opposition supporters would be the same as the ones for the September 1 protest, and that from there protesters would march onto the Francisco Fajardo highway. The highway splits Caracas in two, and connects the east and west of the city.
Echoing statements made over the weekend, Capriles said that this protest would be different because rather than having a set start-and-end time, it would continue potentially indefinitely. Capriles said that while the protest would definitely start on Wednesday, it would “[continue] until the government respects the Constitution”.
Minister of Defense: Army Won’t Allow National Assembly to Ignore Constitution
Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez issued a series of cryptic comments today to the effect that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces would not allow the National Assembly to ignore the constitution. The comments come a day after the national legislature declared that Maduro had staged a coup d’etat in Venezuela, and that the country’s constitutional order had been broken.
Padrino Lopez said that the National Assembly was “greatly manipulating” public discourse in order to “confuse the people”, and said:
The National Bolivarian Armed Forces will not allow anyone to not comply with the Constitution, including the National Assembly (…) In the face of constitutional shortcuts, the National Bolivarian Armed Forces are tasked with defending the Constitution with our lives.
Students Protest in Several States
University students took to the streets of several cities today to protest against the national government and the postponement of the recall referendum effort against Maduro.
In Caracas, students at the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) clashed with National Bolivarian Police officers. Below, videos of the clashes on the UCV campus:
Protests also took place at the Universidad de Carabobo near Valencia, as well as in universities in Lara, Merida, and Tachira states.
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