Venezuela Update: Both sides in Norway for peace talks

(BBC) – Norway has attempted to facilitate high-level talks between Venezuela’s government and political opposition, both sides have said.

The government and the opposition have been engaged in a bitter power struggle since January.

Reports of a meeting between the two sides in Norway’s capital Oslo first emerged on Thursday.

They were later confirmed by Juan Jorge Valero, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó said there are “some envoys” in Norway, but denied talks were under way with President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The timing of the talks is a surprise. They come just days after 10 opposition lawmakers were stripped of their immunity and charged with treason, and shortly after Mr Guaidó said he was considering asking the US to launch a military intervention to oust President Maduro from power.

Previous attempts at meditation between the two Venezuelan sides have failed, with the opposition alleging the government only engaged in them to divide their rivals and buy time.

However, Norway has in the past successfully mediated in the Colombian armed conflict.

‘Days of talks’

Mr Valero told reporters: “I can confirm that there are dialogues but I cannot go into details”.

Ambassador Jorge Valero poses between photographs of President Nicolas Maduro (L) and late President Hugo Chavez during a interview with AFImage copyrightAFP
Image captionJorge Valero confirmed that the talks had taken place

Ambassador Valero said that the talks were between representatives of the Venezuelan government and what he called the “democratic part” of the opposition.

“There is an opposition that can be classified as democratic but there’s another that are simply puppets of the US empire,” he said without elaborating further.

Norwegian broadcaster NRK, quoting anonymous sources, reported that talks had been under way for “several days” and that representatives of the two sides were due to return to Venezuela on Thursday.

At a rally in Caracas, Mr Guaidó acknowledged that Norway had been attempting to “mediate” in the political crisis.

“Everyone who joins the process of liberation and democratization of Venezuela… will be absolutely welcome,” he added.

‘Very important mission’

NRK said the Venezuelan government was represented by Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez and the governor of Miranda province, Héctor Rodríguez.

Speaking on TV on Wednesday, President Maduro said Mr Rodríguez was “overseas, on a very important mission” but did not give further details.

Venezuelan media said the opposition was represented by former lawmaker Gerardo Blyde and a former minister, Fernando Martínez Mottola.

Jorge Rodríguez speaking at Miraflores Palace on 12 March 2019Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionCommunications minister Jorge Rodríguez is reportedly one of those in Oslo

Neither Mr Blyde nor Mr Mottola have commented on the reports.

Norway’s foreign ministry said it would not comment on whether the talks had taken place and what Norway’s role, if any, was. Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said back in January that her country was “ready to contribute if and when the parties so wish”.

Spiralling tension

While the opposition and the government of President Maduro have been at loggerheads for years, the situation escalated after Mr Maduro was sworn in for a second term on 9 January after elections which were widely dismissed as “neither free nor fair”.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Caracas on May 14, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionJuan Guaidó has been recognised by more than 50 countries

On 23 January, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, invoked the constitution to proclaim himself interim president, arguing that the presidency was vacant because Mr Maduro’s election had been fraudulent.

He has been recognised as the legitimate leader of Venezuela by more than 50 countries but Mr Maduro remains in power and in control of the country’s military, which is a key player in the crisis.

Tension has risen further since 30 April when Mr Guaidó stood outside an air force base in Caracas calling on the military to switch sides and oust President Maduro.

Since then, his deputy has been arrested for treason and is being held in an undisclosed location and 10 other opposition lawmakers have had their immunity lifted with some of them seeking refuge in foreign embassies.

Mr Guaidó’s immunity was already lifted on 3 April but the government has not since moved to detain him.