By Diego Oré
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Negotiators on both sides of Venezuela’s political divide will return to Mexico this week to kick off a second round of talks aimed at easing the once prosperous country’s long-running crisis which has forced millions to flee.
Representatives of embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition to his government will meet on Friday afternoon, after a first round of negotiations was held in the Mexican capital last month.
While no agreements from the talks have been publicly disclosed so far, two sources with knowledge of the sessions cited a pair of recent developments as products of the dialogue: the freeing of opposition leader Freddy Guevara and the announced participation of the opposition in regional elections scheduled for November.
The opposition boycotted a 2018 presidential vote that saw Maduro win a lopsided reelection, as well as a parliamentary election last year, both of which Maduro’s opponents viewed as rigged.
Jorge Rodriguez, president of Venezuela’s Congress and head of Maduro’s negotiating team, announced the resumption of talks in remarks on Tuesday.
Unlike failed talks in years past, the Mexico-hosted negotiations now have the formal backing of the Netherlands, Russia, Bolivia and Turkey, as well as Norway which also participated in the earlier August round.
Maduro’s government has demanded that financial sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on Venezuela be lifted, including those applied to state oil company PDVSA, blamed for intensifying the country’s historic economic meltdown.
“Venezuela will present in Mexico… a firm request with all the requirements for the recovery of the country’s economy and the return of the gold held hostage in the Bank of England, and that all sanctions against PDVSA be lifted,” Maduro said earlier this week.
Maduro is especially keen to recover the 31 tonnes of Venezuelan gold bars being held in Britain since London recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president following the 2018 election.
Officials in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration have expressed an openness to revisit the sanctions on Venezuela inherited from the previous administration, but have conditioned such moves on “significant progress” in the Mexico talks.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan opposition is seeking additional humanitarian aid for the country’s impoverished masses, more COVID-19 vaccines, the freeing of dozens of detainees they call political prisoners, as well as guarantees for the upcoming November elections.
Venezuelan’s economic collapse has been felt far beyond its borders as desperate individuals and whole families have sought better prospects in other countries, part of an exodus that the Washington-based Organization of American States has estimated will reach seven million next year.
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Peter Graff)