The most well-known members of the Venezuelan opposition have been stunned by the rapprochement between high-ranking United States officials and Bolivarian leader Nicolás Maduro. So much so that they are left speechless. The silence of the opposition leader was particularly noticeable on Saturday, March 5, when the meeting was held. Juan Guaidó, the most prominent opponent, said this Wednesday, four days later, that only a democratic Venezuela could be “a reliable and efficient energy provider for the world.” Apart from that allusion, he has not even referred to the meeting directly, as if it had not existed.
According to Washington, at that meeting they discussed “energy security” and the situation of Americans arbitrarily detained in Venezuela. The talks come amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the world grapples with rising oil prices in the face of a threat to veto Russian production, which in the US case came to fruition on Monday. On Tuesday, the Chavista government released at least two American prisoners, one of them an executive of the Citgo refinery who was arbitrarily detained in November 2017 and the other, a Cuban-American arrested in 2021 for carrying a drone, for which accused him of terrorism.
In statements after the meeting with the Americans, Maduro also opened the possibility of resuming the negotiations in Mexico, broken off in protest at the arrest of the Colombian businessman and his alleged figurehead Alex Saab, who is facing trial for money laundering in Miami. Although in the opposition ranks no one has wanted to offer any explanation for the meeting of the US delegation with Chavismo, the sources consulted insisted that the meeting of US officials with Maduro “was already known” when it was made public.
The US delegation present in Caracas also spoke with Guaidó and Gerardo Blyde, who was the delegate of the Venezuelan opposition in the dialogue with the ruling party established last year in Mexico and now paralyzed. It was on Sunday, after having gone to Miraflores. According to those sources, James Story, the US ambassador in Caracas; Juan González, White House adviser for Latin America, and Roger Carstens, special envoy for hostage affairs, also met in Bogotá with representatives of the most important opposition parties, grouped in the so-called Democratic Platform to talk to them about the plan.
The silence of the leadership, however, has been notorious. Among the opposition parties, without unified criteria to address this new scenario, the communique from Primero Justicia stands out as an exception, one of the most important in the block, in which some general declarations of principles are outlined that border the circumstance of the meeting without going into qualify or weigh it.
The text speaks of the commitment of the democratic field with negotiation and political dialogue; of the need to reactivate Mexico’s agenda and the imperative to organize clean and fair elections “in which citizens defeat Nicolás Maduro and return to the path of quality of life.” For this, he adds, “it is essential to meet the demands of the report of the Electoral Observation Mission of the European Union on the regional elections of 2021″.
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A little over a week ago, an important group of opposition leaders —Stalin González and three newly elected governors— had met with Ambassador Story in Bogotá. The objective of the Venezuelan politicians was to exchange reflections with the diplomat on the damages of international sanctions. There was talk of strengthening the conditions for both parties to sit down at the work table in Mexico, a perspective that was being approached with optimism in the political and information circles these days.
“The results of the first contacts between the United States and Maduro have not been spectacular, nor anything worthy of being called a turnaround,” comments Julio Castillo, opposition political leader, university professor and press writer. “It is natural that the Government of the United States feels the need to go looking for the Government of Venezuela after the crisis with Russia and its energy and oil implications. But in the forms, of course there is a change of attitude towards the interim government. None of this prevented the United States Government from doing what is appropriate diplomatically, that is, giving advance notice of the initiative.”
The United States government has reiterated that it recognizes and supports Juan Guaidó, and does not seem to be proposing a change on this issue, at least in the medium term. Victoria Nuland, Undersecretary of State, repeatedly argued with Senator Marco Rubio, with whom she had a prolonged confrontation in Congress in which she assured her that Guaidó was previously informed of the entire operation while Rubio denied it.
Joe Biden himself has declared that Guaidó was aware of the step taken, and that they continue to recognize him as the legitimate president of the country. “But here there is a change in behavior,” Castillo maintains, “the United States could be tempted to listen to other factors, to value other points of view, to propose an expansion of the opposition representation in the dialogue with Chavismo in Mexico.”
Although these meetings have discussed the need to seek early elections, the approach of the United States to Miraflores, and the immediate horizon and objectives of most of the opposition organizations at the time, it suggests that, with regard to an appointment election or an agreement with Chavismo, all roads lead to 2024, the date on which the questioned Maduro government must end its term.
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