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Venezuela Peace Talks Collapse as Opposition Accuses Maduro of ‘Mocking the Pope’

Representatives of Venezuela’s socialist government reportedly abandoned talks with the opposition on Tuesday in a move one opposition member argued made a “mockery of the pope,” who vouched for the talks.

Dictator Nicolás Maduro’s negotiators abandoned negotiations after Venezuela’s National Assembly called for a hearing regarding the conviction of two of Maduro’s nephews for cocaine trafficking in New York, according to representatives of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).

MUD representatives say talks are now “frozen.” Henrique Capriles Radonski, opposition governor of Miranda state, condemned Maduro’s government for the move.

“Maduro got up from the supposed dialogue table,” Capriles wrote on Twitter. “He never came through, he showed himself for who he was in front of the world and even made a mockery of the Pope.” Pope Francis welcomed Maduro to the Vatican in October as the Venezuelan head of state traveled back home from Saudi Arabia, and the Pope offered to mediate talks between the anti-socialist opposition and his government.

The next round of talks is scheduled for December 6, and a representative of the Vatican is expected to attend.

Maduro’s government has not responded to the reports that his diplomats are no longer negotiating. Instead, Venezuelan state media is touting a visit from former Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who called meeting with Maduro “an extraordinary positive experience” and vowed to play a role in negotiations.

“I have attended many meetings with both government representatives and opposition members… and the climate has been a cordial one, of increasing confidence and respect,” Venezuelan state news quotes Zapatero as saying.

Venezuelan government media quote Maduro as saying that he has “insisted very much on coexistence, tolerance, and respect among Venezuelans.” Official government reports give no indication of discord regarding the talks.

The talks have been controversial among opposition leaders precisely because Maduro has not insisted on coexistence with the opposition, having forced the Supreme Court to rule the legislature illegitimate following the opposition’s electoral victory in late 2015.

The opposition has insisted on continuing to attempt to recall Maduro, organizing a constitutionally-permissible recall petition drive also declared illegitimate by the ruling socialists. The National Assembly is now attempting to put Maduro’s violations of the constitution on trial, accusing him of technically abandoning his post by flagrantly violating the constitution. The legislature’s hands are tied, however, as the constitution — ratified by late dictator Hugo Chávez — does not provide for an impeachment process.

The opposition is seeking to replace Maduro following years of violent repression of anti-socialist activists, abduction and torture of key opposition leaders, and gross mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy leading to the beginnings of a famine in the OPEC member nation.

Some in the opposition have criticized MUD leaders for accepting a dialogue with Maduro. “We have already warned that we cannot talk to this regime,” María Corina Machado, a former National Assembly legislator illegally ousted by Maduro, said this week. “Dictatorships don’t hold dialogues… the MUD must recognize its errors and a citizen movement must stand up to recover our democracy.”

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