Venezuela: Mediators wanted, from the Vatican the better

In early July hundreds of women stormed a border crossing with Colombia to go buy food and medicines. Most medicines are unavailable in Venezuela even for the seriously ill, such as cancer or transplant patients.

 

The country is on its last legs, and President Obama, the Organization of American States (OAS), Ban Ki-Moon, the EU and Pope Francis, among others, are all concerned about the situation of the Venezuelan population.

Among the progress desired is that the government authorizes shipments of medicines and food to tackle the humanitarian crisis (which the government denies); restoring the rule of law, and hence holding a referendum that would out the president; releasing political prisoners (out of 245, eight have not yet faced trial).

There is also talk about the need for a dialogue between the government and the opposition. The latter won with a large majority the control of the National Assembly in December, but Nicolás Maduro's Chavista government has since been hindering any decision by the legislators, on the economy and other issues. when not rejecting them outright.

Two million signatures were collected for the recall referendum provided for by Article 72 of the Constitution that the opposition is calling. The Election Commission, however, which is politically controlled by the executive branch, did so far all it could to postpone it to 2017 to allow the Maduro's government to stay on top of the transition - and salvage what it can in terms of positions, benefits, power and immunities.

General Diosdado Cabello, the second most powerful man in the country, and a leading target of U.S. investigations into alleged drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption, stated simply that "there will be no referendum in 2016".

In this context, the only attempt to broker a "dialogue" that set off is that promoted by UNASUR with mediators former presidents José Luis Zapatero and Omar Torrijos. The opposition leaders, however, among whom Henrique Capriles of Proyecto Venezuela, Corina Machado of MUD, the president of the NA Henry Ramos Allup and Freddy Guevara of Voluntad Popular, warn that it is not the first time that the government talks about dialogue to buy time and dilute the action of the opposition.

Some events in the last couple weeks confirm these fears. To Leopoldo Lopez, one of the opposition leaders sitting in jail, Maduro granted personally a visit by Zapatero — a few days after officers had seized from his cell his defense notes and canceled a hearing.

Chancellor Delcy Rodríguez began talking about "Maduro been available for a dialogue" on the very day in which he amassed more power — if ever possible — into the hands of another General, Mr. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Defense Minister. Now in charge of a critical task, that of all State supplies, from consumer goods to industrial resources, Padrino Lopez now controls both the Armed Forces and the State, but has no known expertise in economics.

On those very days, the leadership of the military, most of which overlaps with the government, decided to promote more than one hundred officers "of proven loyalty" to general or admiral, just as news filtered once again of an uneasiness among the military not involved in the government.

 Zapatero met on Monday with seven opposition representatives, but at least at this stage, there is a mismatch between the parties. The opposition maintains the referendum is a constitutional right and hence non-negotiable. It is a precondition for a dialogue that needs to span over the other emergencies in Venezuela. Zapatero however, while agreeing that the referendum is a right, believes that it "must follow the Commission's election process." He said that "it is when you yield on your utmost request that the dialogue begins," and that "with or without a referendum, trust must be rebuild among Venezuelans."

It is precisely this abstract concept of "trust" that set back the deal for now. "If a dialogue will serve only to show the world how democratic the government is and delay the referendum, then, of course, it will be useless", said Guevara. Zapatero met then with Cabello and Wednesday with Maduro.

"We don't veto whoever, but Zapatero said that the economic problem is a result of a lack of dialogue. He has a wrong diagnosis. (...) He is seeing in Venezuela another movie," said Capriles to Efe.

In addition to holding the recall referendum and freeing political prisoners, one other condition of the opposition is to include the Vatican and the OAS in the mediation. In the last few hours Maduro allegedly accepted that. There is bad blood among the OAS and the government since a special meeting on Venezuela merc that Secretary Luis Almagro convened a few weeks ago, and whose agenda included the fight against corruption.

A Chavista Venezuela can no longer count on all of the unconditional allies it had a year ago, but just on Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. This semester was Venezuela's turn to chair the economic organization Mercosur. That was postponed owing to a debate among the other members on the eligibility of Venezuela on the grounds of the state of democracy there.

In June, the Central Bank of Venezuela requested a loan of 1 billion to the Latin American Reserves Fund. Caracas was granted only $ 400 million, because per statute higher sums must be motivated by the National Assembly, the power of which Maduro continues to deny.

A mediation by the Vatican would result in a breakthrough — and it could be coming along according to the intense contacts Pope Francis had with his Nuncio in Caracas.

Increasing pressure from abroad means that the government cannot anymore happily use ruses such as "a conspiracy of imperialism", but it did not give up on punishing citizens who signed for the referendum: it denied them scholarships, and fired them by the hundreds, like in the state company Seniat.

Unsurprising is thus the turmoil caused by two pairs of shoes. The first, worn by a mayor, cost four times the minimum wage — which is good for buying only a chicken, a kilo of meat, a kilo of onions and half a kilo of tomatoes. Cilia Flores, "the first fighter", Maduro's wife, wore the other. Her shoes cost $ 140, that is 42 times the minimum wage, food stamps included.

@GuiomarParada

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