Q&A on New Negotiations between Maduro and Opposition Parties

The Latin American Advisor has a Q&A on the new negotiation effort happening between the Maduro government and a minority segment of the opposition. Comments are provided by Gustavo Roosen, Beatriz Rangel, Steve Ellner, Peter DeShazo and myself. The question and my answer are appended below. The entire Q&A can be read here. You can read Abe Lowenthal’s comment which came out in Friday’s edition of the LAA here.

LAA: Venezuelan authorities on Sept. 17 released prominent opposition figure Édgar Zambrano, who had been imprisoned since May. President Nicolás Maduro’s government said the release was an attempt at “peaceful coexistence” with opponents, though opposition leader Juan Guaidó called the release the result of popular pressure against Maduro’s government. Just a day earlier, Maduro’s party and small opposition parties reached a deal on reviewing the cases of other prisoners and on reforming the National Electoral Commission. Are the two sides getting nearer to a negotiated peace? How cohesive is the opposition, and what negotiating power does it have? What role have international talks led by Norway and Barbados had in the process? Is Maduro closer to the beginning or the end of his term as president?

DS: The parties and leaders that are currently negotiating with the Maduro government represent only a small number of the opposition seats in the National Assembly (AN), were not elected to leadership positions in that body, nor were they designated by the leaders that were. As such they do not represent the opposition coalition more broadly and cannot negotiate on its behalf. There are some positive aspects of the agreements they have reached—the reincorporation of Socialist deputies into the AN, the release of political prisoners and the designation of new rectors in the National Electoral Council can only be applauded. But there has been no mention of the elephant in the room: presidential power. The origin of the current crisis is that Maduro was not legitimately elected, and allowing Venezuelans to choose their leadership in fair elections has to be at the center of any accord. The recent agreements are related to the Barbados talks in a perverse way. The Norwegian diplomats did what expert mediators do: cut through the noise, focus on the central issue, and put the two sides in a situation in which they either make a deal or have to reveal they do not want one. It was precisely because of the success of the Barbados talks that Maduro wanted out. The U.S. ramping up sanctions in early August, just as the parties were set to resume talks gave Maduro a great excuse to withdraw. Guaidó’s pulling out on September 15 gave Maduro some breathing room, and Maduro grabbed the opportunity to launch a new negotiation process that does not challenge presidential power.