Representatives of Venezuela’s government and opposition groups have begun a fresh round of talks in Mexico in efforts to resolve the nation’s persisting political and economic crisis, amid a US-led campaign against Caracas.
Unlike previous talks between the two sides, the ongoing negotiations that commenced on Friday at Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology will include more than a dozen countries, among them the Netherlands, Russia, Bolivia, Turkey and Norway, which will play the role of a facilitator.
The two sides have agreed to a memorandum of understanding containing the road map that will guide the dialogue process.
For the talks to advance to a potential agreement, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro insists that sanctions imposed by the US and its European allies on the country’s officials and institutions be lifted. Caracas says the US-led sanctions are responsible for the OPEC member's economic crisis.
The opposition coalition, for its part, has called for humanitarian aid, including vaccines against COVID-19, to be allowed into Venezuela; dozens of supporters whom it considers as "political prisoners" to be released and its participation in regional elections in November to be guaranteed.
The return to the negotiating table represents a turnaround for the mostly US-backed opposition, which in the past accused Maduro of using dialogue to buy time and defuse international pressure. Caracas abandoned the 2019 dialogue, which took place in Barbados and Norway, after Washington tightened sanctions.
"Today we are beginning the second stage of a negotiation process that we know will be complex, which will surely have very difficult moments," said Gerardo Blyde, chair of the Venezuelan opposition delegation.
"We already know what we do not agree on. ... The job now is to find points of confluence to guarantee the future and the happiness of the people of Venezuela," said Jorge Rodriguez, president of Venezuela's parliament, at the beginning of the talks.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has not relaxed sanctions against the financial and oil sectors of Venezuela since being sworn into office in January and has maintained support for the Trump-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido.
"We are willing to review sanctions policies on the basis of significant progress in the negotiation. But that is what we need to see: significant progress," US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday.
Venezuela descended into political turmoil after Guaidó unilaterally declared himself “interim president” in January 2019.
With Washington’s greenlight and help from a small number of rogue soldiers, Guaidó later launched a botched coup attempt against the elected government.
The Trump administration recognized Guaidó as the "legitimate leader" of Venezuela and publicly pursued a “regime change” policy against Maduro.
The Biden administration has reaffirmed the US recognition of Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president and ruled out negotiations with Maduro anytime soon.
Last month, Maduro accused US spy agency CIA and the American military of plotting to assassinate him, questioning whether its current president is aware of the move.
"Did Joe Biden ratify Donald Trump's orders to lead Venezuela into civil war and kill us? Yes or no? I ask," Maduro said during a July 2 address at a military ceremony.
"What did they do?” he further asked. “Our sources in Colombia assure us ... that they have come to prepare a plan to attack my life and that of important political and military leaders ... Did President Joe Biden authorize the plan to assassinate me and important political and military leaders in Venezuela? Yes or no?"
Washington has imposed several rounds of crippling sanctions against the oil-rich Latin American country in a bid to oust Maduro and replace him with Guaido.
The sanctions, which include illegal confiscation of Venezuelan assets abroad and an economic blockade, have caused enormous suffering to millions of people in the country.