Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó has rejected further direct talks in Oslo with the leftist government of Nicolás Maduro, as broader international efforts to broker a solution to the country’s growing political and humanitarian crisis gather pace.
More than 4m Venezuelans have fled their country over the past four years amid an economic collapse that economists say has few parallels in peacetime anywhere in the world. Experts say that water, electricity, fuel and food supplies are crumbling and mortality rates from common diseases are rising alarmingly.
Mr Guaidó, who has been recognised by the US and more than 50 other countries as Venezuela’s rightful interim president, told a rally that he would only accept fresh talks if Mr Maduro agreed to step aside and hand over to a transitional government pending fresh elections. “Nobody in their right mind sits down with dictators believing in their good faith,” he said.
Two rounds of talks between the Maduro government and the opposition hosted by Norway have so far failed to break the political deadlock in Venezuela that followed Mr Maduro’s victory last year in what was widely seen as a rigged election. Both the US and the Venezuelan opposition fear that the Maduro government is exploiting the Oslo process to play for time.
Mr Guaidó’s ambassador to Washington, Carlos Vecchio, told the Financial Times there were no plans for a third round of Oslo talks. “We’ve asked [the Caracas government] whether they’re prepared to discuss a presidential election without Maduro in power and so far . . . the reply is that they’re not,” he said. “There won’t be another opportunity to talk unless they’re ready to discuss this.”
However a much broader international diplomatic effort on Venezuela is unfolding in parallel, led by the Lima Group of Latin American countries, which also includes Canada. They are attempting to engage some of the main backers of the Maduro government, in particular Russia, Cuba, China and Turkey.
Cuba has supplied a sizeable contingent of intelligence officers and bodyguards who protect Mr Maduro, in exchange for a supply of Venezuelan oil. Russia provides military knowhow while China has extended billions of dollars in loans. Turkey is a key centre for processing Venezuelan gold ore.
Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela’s constituent assembly and a key figure in the Maduro government, appeared in Havana unannounced on Thursday night for talks with the Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez. Mr Rodríguez was in turn travelling later on Friday to Canada to meet foreign minister Chrystia Freeland, the Associated Press reported. Ms Freeland said she would explore the role Cuba could play in a peaceful solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
Amid rumours of an imminent Maduro visit to Moscow, one of his key backers, the Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, said that such a trip could happen quickly. “If a top-level contact is necessary, I think we could organise it in a short timeframe and ensure that it produced a result,” Mr Ryabkov said during a visit to Uruguay, according the Russian state-run Sputnik news service.
The US was sceptical earlier this year about the prospects for a negotiated solution to the Venezuela crisis but the failure of Mr Guaidó’s attempt to lead a military uprising in Caracas at the end of April and an unwillingness in Washington to follow through on threats of US military action against Mr Maduro have led to a greater willingness to contemplate other options.
For now, though, Washington’s red lines are the same as those of Mr Guaidó’s parallel administration: they insist on Mr Maduro stepping down and an interim government taking over pending fresh presidential elections.
Additional reporting by Gideon Long in Bogotá