Venezuelan Government And Opposition Leaders Head To Norway For Talks

14 hours ago
Originally published on May 16, 2019 10:47 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Representatives of Venezuela's president and the man trying to overthrow him have held talks in Norway that seems to mark a shift in the opposition's strategy. For months now, opposition leader Juan Guaido has tried to oust President Nicolas Maduro. But it hasn't worked - even though Guaido has the support of the U.S. and more than 50 other countries we're joined now by NPR's Philip Reeves who is in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Why are these talks in Norway so significant?

REEVES: Well, for a long time, Juan Guaido has been saying that he's not interested in talking to Maduro. He doesn't recognize Maduro as Venezuela's legitimate president, arguing that the election that returned Maduro to a second term last year was a fraud.

So he's been concentrating on his campaign to oust Maduro. Step by step, you know, he unified the opposition. He mobilized sometimes huge crowds. He secured that recognition internationally. And the U.S. backed him up with sanctions that have been really - have really hit the Maduro government hard.

And then, at the end of last month, he tried to spark a military uprising. He said it was the final phase of his campaign, and it didn't work. It failed. So it looks like he's trying something else.

SHAPIRO: So what can you tell us about the talks themselves? What happened? What was discussed?

REEVES: Well, we know a limited amount about this. One well-placed source who has been tracking the process closely says it began yesterday. He talks in terms of it being talks about talks in which the opposition is demanding, as a first step, the immediate departure of Maduro if this process is to advance. We don't know if more talks are going on. We don't know whether they're face-to-face or each party is speaking to a mediator separately.

SHAPIRO: What are political leaders in Caracas saying about this?

REEVES: Well, Guaido himself has confirmed that efforts are underway to mediate in Norway. And he also is having a meeting with the International Contact Group; that's a Latin American-European initiative also trying to develop a channel of potential negotiation. But elements within the opposition are deeply opposed to this. They regard any attempt to negotiate with Maduro, who they characterize as a dictator, with deep suspicion. And they believe that Maduro uses this kind of process to buy time or to try to divide them.

And indeed, those suspicions about an attempt to divide the opposition are reinforced by remarks made by Venezuela's ambassador to the U.N. - who is a Maduro appointee - who talked about the fact that, yes, they were negotiating with the opposition, but only with part of the opposition, what he called a democratic element as opposed to what he called puppets of the U.S., which is a pretty blatant attempt to divide the opposition.

SHAPIRO: In a moment, we're going to hear one of those skeptical voices from a Venezuelan military defector now in Colombia. In the meantime, what are regular Venezuelans saying? Is this on their radar?

REEVES: Oh, I think for most people, they concentrate on getting by day to day - finding enough money to get food, trying to find medicine, trying to acquire access to water. They've seen negotiations in Venezuela, over the years, come and go and fail. So I think there's a high level of cynicism about this.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas, Venezuela. Thanks, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.