The talks between the ruling PSUV party and the MUD opposition bloc came to a formal end today, after both sides walked away from the negotiating table following the failure to reach an agreement. The announcement came from President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic, who brokered the talks between the two sides. In the mid-afternoon, Medina said during a press conference that the negotiation was now in “a period of indefinite recess”, meaning that no agreement had been reached and that no more talks were scheduled to take place.
According to Medina, the failure of the talks appears to have been caused at least in part due to a misunderstanding. Medina said that while the PSUV had hoped to the definitive agreement yesterday, the opposition was caught off-guard by the request and asked for more time to review the document. The PSUV refused to wait for the opposition to do so, and instead left the island last night.
For the government, the trip here for the meeting yesterday had the goal of signing a definitive agreement, and they came to sign that agreement. The opposition did not understand that it was obliged to sign that agreement yesterday, and asked for more time to see the document that had been produced by the parties and that for the most part contained the progress made on the points, which it had since they left [the Dominican Republic] on January 31.
Yesterday, the opposition asked for time to review [the document], and the government had understood that that was the definitive document. They [the government] could not stay to wait for the opposition to meet today because it had political events to attend to in Venezuela, and they [the PSUV] left for Venezuela yesterday.
Medina also said that his government would continue to make itself available to the two parties should they every wish to continue the talks.
Medina revealed that among the points on which the two sides failed to reach consensus was the date of the presidential election. Media said that while the Maduro regime demanded that the election take place on March 8, the opposition had suggested June 10 with the goal of allowing for more time in order to institute the safeguards necessary to guarantee a free and fair vote.
On the prospect of future talks between the two sides Medina was grimly optimistic, saying that no matter what ends up happening in Venezuela, the two sides will eventually–at some point in the future, no matter how distant–have to speak to each other again. He said:
No conflict in the world has ever been resolved without sitting down to negotiate. They all end in negotiation.
CNE Sets Election Date: April 22
The Maduro regime reacted quickly to the failed talks, as the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) set officially set the date of the presidential election to April 22. The date was set after a short meeting of CNE rectors in Caracas, which started at 7:00 PM local time.
The head of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, said that she hoped that Venezuelans would see the election as the path to allow “the people of Venezuela to decide the destiny freely”.
The short run-up to the election has caused alarm among regime critics, who say that it is impossible to organize an election with proper safeguards to guarantee a free and fair vote in such a small amount of time.
Eugenio Martinez, a Venezuelan journalist and electoral expert, pointed out that the dates for each one of the eight elections happening in Latin America this year were announced at least nine months in advance.
Today’s announcement from the CNE places the presidential election less than three months away.
Opposition Warns Maduro Against “Unilateral Election” Date
Julio Borges, the head of the Primero Justicia (PJ) party, said in a press conference from the Dominican Republic this afternoon that the talks failed because the Maduro regime “did not want to answer to our demands for transparent elections in the country”. Borges, who was the leading opposition figure in the talks, said that the document that the PSUV wanted the opposition to sign yesterday contained unacceptable terms.
Borges also took to Twitter this afternoon to speak on the failure of the talks with the PSUV. Borges also said that the MUD would publish in the coming hours all of the documents that it presented to the PSUV during the talks, including its formal list of demands. He said:
[Top tweet] What we’ve seen here is a government that wants to take away rights from Venezuelans, [the opposition] fighting to protect them, we are and will continue to be here looking for a peaceful solution for Venezuela. The government should get out of the way and allow free elections.
[Bottom tweet] We will not accept any agreement that forfeits democracy in Venezuela. In the next hours, we will make public all of the documents that we presented [at the talks], where our demands are stated very clearly.
On the possibility that the Maduro regime may announce the election date tonight, Borges said:
We ask the government that it not make the absurd mistake of calling for elections in a unilateral manner. Nicolas Maduro is not the owner of democracy in Venezuela, it is Venezuelans and they should be respected.
MUD Releases Full Version of its Demands
Late this evening, the MUD released two documents containing the demands that they made of the Maduro regime during the talks in the Dominican Republic. The first document, containing the initial demands, is dated December 2; the second document, dated February 7, represents the final stage of the negotiation process and contains the demands that the regime refused to agree to.
Had the Maduro regime agreed to sign the MUD’s February 7 agreement, the following events would have unfolded:
- Within 48 hours, the Supreme Court would have ordered the assignment of two new rectors to the CNE, to be chosen through consensus by the MUD and PSUV working together.
- An International Electoral Observer mission, headed by the United Nations, would have been invited to participate in the presidential election.
- The regime would have granted both PSUV and MUD presidential candidates equal space and time for campaigning, including over radio and television, amounting to a minimum of 5 minutes per channel per day.
- The orders barring Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez from running for office would have been listed.
- A series of safeguards would have been implemented to help ensure a free and fair presidential election, including several rounds of audits, allowing candidates equal access to media, and banning political campaigning near election centres.
US Considering Ways to “Mitigate” Oil Embargo Effects for Caribbean Nations
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke in a press conference in Kingston, Jamaica this afternoon, and said that Washington was considering ways to help mitigate the damage of an oil embargo against Venezuela on Caribbean nations that have grown to depend on the commodity from the Maduro regime.
Tillerson said that the White House was forming a working group with the governments of Canada and Mexico to examine the matter.
Talk of an oil embargo has become more common from U.S. officials in recent weeks. Given that Venezuela receives virtually all of its income from oil sales, an embargo would have far-reaching and catastrophic repercussions for the Maduro regime and the Venezuelan people. Tillerson conceded that an embargo would be “pretty dramatic”, and that he was actively seeking out the input of regional partners including Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica on the issue.
In 2005, Chavez created Petrocaribe, a regional initiative under which Venezuela agreed to provide oil to Caribbean nations at favorable rates in exchange, with the possibility of paying for the oil with other commodities instead of cash.
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