Venezuela’s Guaido confirms Norway mediation effort

CARACAS, May 17, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Opposition leader Juan Guaido said
Thursday he sent delegates to Norway to join an attempt by Oslo to mediate in
the Venezuela crisis, but denied talks were underway with President Nicolas
Maduro’s government.

“There are some envoys in Norway,” Guaido told a rally of his supporters in
Caracas. The Scandinavian country was trying to bring both sides together,
but talks have not taken place, he said.

It was the first official confirmation that negotiations were being
attempted after a months-long power struggle between the National Assembly
leader and the socialist president, amid sometimes deadly street clashes.

“There is no negotiation whatsoever,” Guaido made clear in comments to
reporters. Instead, Norwegian officials were “trying to mediate” with both
sides to bring them to the table.

Maduro did not confirm the meetings but later said a close adviser,
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez, was “on a very important mission for
peace in the country … in Europe” and would return shortly.

Norway’s NRK radio and television network, quoting anonymous sources,
earlier reported that talks had taken place over “several days” at a secret
Oslo location and the delegations were returning to Caracas on Thursday.

“We can neither confirm nor deny Norway’s involvement in peace processes or
dialogue initiatives,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde
told AFP.

Several South American media outlets also reported talks were held. –
Delegates in Oslo –

Speaking to reporters in Caracas, Guaido confirmed reports that National
Assembly vice president Stalin Gonzalez and former lawmaker Gerardo Blyde
were representing the opposition in Norway.

Media reports said Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez and
the governor of Miranda province Hector Rodriguez represented Maduro’s
government.

Guaido insisted that the purpose of any negotiations must be the “cessation
of the usurpation” by Maduro with a view to establishing a transitional
government ahead of “free elections.”

US-backed Guaido is recognized by dozens of countries as interim president
after dismissing Maduro’s presidency as “illegitimate” following his re-
election last year in polls widely dismissed as rigged.

Maduro has been shunned by much of the international community for
presiding over the country’s economic collapse, which has led to shortages of
basic goods — forcing millions to flee — as well as brutally suppressing
dissent.

He retains the backing of major creditors Russia, China and Cuba, as well
as the powerful military.

With the military support seen as key, Guaido tried to incite an uprising
against Maduro on April 30 but only about 30 members of the armed forces
joined him.

The socialist regime has since ramped up pressure on Guaido’s allies and
supporters, charging 10 lawmakers with treason.

– Dwindling crowds-

Crowds at Guaido’s mass weekly protests in Caracas have dwindled in recent
weeks, amid growing signs of weariness that despite a raft of international
sanctions, Maduro still retains the upper hand.

Guaido said it was the second time Norway had invited representatives of
both sides to the country for talks, though he did not elaborate.

Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize and the now-defunct Israeli-
Palestinian Oslo accords, has a long tradition of playing the role of
facilitator in peace processes around the world, including one in Colombia
between the government and FARC leftist rebels in 2016.

Guaido meanwhile also confirmed that his representative in Washington,
Carlos Vecchio, would go ahead with a meeting with military planners at the
US Southern Command next week.

“On Monday we will have a meeting with Southern Command at the United
States’ Department of State,” he said.

“My impression is that the government is trying to gain time, trying to
divide and fracture the opposition,” said Benigno Alarcon, conflict
resolution expert at the Andros Bello Catholic University in Caracas.

“For the opposition, it means time to reorganize, much like in a war, to
check their resources and rethink how they can win.”

Guaido meanwhile scored a small diplomatic victory in Washington, where a
group of leftist activists squatting at the Venezuelan embassy were cleared
out by police.

They had been occupying the embassy in support of Maduro to prevent
Guaido’s representatives from taking it over.

The last Maduro envoys at the embassy left after the Organization of
American States voted on April 10 to accept Guaido’s envoy Vecchio to
represent Venezuela at the Washington-based body.

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