Venezuelans are growing impatient with President Juan Guaidó following his announcement that he would engage in talks with dictator Nicolás Maduro beginning Tuesday, launching the fifth dialogue process with the regime in six years.
Multiple high-profile members of the Venezuelan opposition and the Latin American right have expressed dismay with Guaidó’s inability to govern despite being legally president of the country since January. Guaidó has failed to secure control of the military, even after telling Venezuelans in a global broadcast in late April that he had, and has now attempted to frame talks with the Maduro regime as something other than dialogue.
A nationwide survey by the polling firm Meganálisis taken in early May found that 87.6 percent of Venezuelans oppose a dialogue between Maduro and Guaidó. A little over ten percent of respondents said they would support talks.
Guaidó confirmed on Monday that he had sent a delegation to Oslo, Norway, to meet with senior Maduro henchmen. It remains unclear what the two sides would discuss as both claim to be the legitimate government of Venezuela, but only one has the constitutional mandate to rule. The other, Maduro’s, is counting on its control of the police and armed forces to violently repress the opposition.
Guaidó sent a delegation to Norway for “exploratory” talks last week, which he claimed was necessary as one of many tools against the regime. “We will not lend ourselves to any false negotiations,” he insisted at the time.
Aware of widespread opposition to any negotiations with the regime, the president insisted in using alternative terminology for the meetings.
“There isn’t any sort of negotiation. It is an effort by Norway for a mediation which is months old,” Guaidó said of the talks. “This was the second invitation from Oslo. Everything else is speculation.”
“It is an invitation to a mediation by Norway – that is to say, not a negotiation, not a dialogue,” he repeated this week.
The U.S. State Department, which has steadfastly supported Guaidó since he became president, issued a statement late last week following initial reports on the Norway dialogue urging the opposition not to fall into another dialogue trap.
“Free elections cannot be overseen by a tyrant. As we have repeatedly stated, we believe the only thing to negotiate with Nicolas Maduro is the conditions of his departure,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said. “We hope the talks in Oslo will focus on that objective, and if they do, we hope progress will be possible.”
Venezuela’s opposition, led by the socialist-dominated Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), conducted talks with the regime in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Each time, Maduro urged the opposition to end street protests and pressure on him to step down. With the MUD silencing the opposition, Maduro rounded up hundreds of political prisoners and killed hundreds more who chose not to stop protesting, including children.
The skepticism from the State Department echoed sentiments that exploded in opposition circles this week, following Guaidó’s attempt to claim that mediation is not negotiation.
“Last week, four children died due to lack of medicine … how many more days will we wait to get rid of this regime?” Javier Chirinos of the Vente Venezuela opposition party said on Venezuelan broadcaster NTN24 on Monday. “There is no reason to ask this regime for yet another day.”
Chirinos complained that Guaidó had not offered “a clear path or plan to the country” for removing Maduro and his cronies, believed to have deep ties to narcotrafficking and terrorism.
The head of Vente Venezuela, longtime opposition leader María Corina Machado, similarly rejected the talks. In remarks Sunday, Machado recalled talks mediated by the Vatican that resulted in no changes save for an increase in the number of political prisoners.
“All us Venezuelans understand that, before a criminal regime, has repeatedly lied to society regarding dialogue, this [the negotiation] has generated enormous concern,” she said. “It is clear that they mocked the Vatican and Pope Francis. On another occasion, they did it to the foreign ministers of Mexico and Chile. … Every time there is a situation of enormous pressure on the regime close to creating a rupture, these dialogue incentives appear with the only objective to dim and pacify society and internal pressure.”
#Video | María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) en entrevista para @NTN24ve, habla sobre negociación en Noruega: "Cada vez que hay presión sobre el régimen, aparecen estas iniciativas de diálogo". pic.twitter.com/QbiYgmjZH9
— Vente Venezuela (@VenteVenezuela) May 26, 2019
Former mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma, taken as a political prisoner in 2015 before escaping to Madrid last year, criticized Guaidó not only for the talks themselves, but for how his administration has gone about addressing them before the Venezuelan people.
“The secrecy is an error, this uncertainty is an error, which generates a lot of doubts. For example, President Guaidó recently said there was no dialogue in Norway … then he said yes, there were,” Ledezma noted in a video uploaded to social media. “People in Venezuela see the dialogue as pernicious because now Maduro wants to show up in Norway, a country that does not recognize Guaidó as president … it is the same mechanism using the political prisoners as hostages, which gave them positive outcomes.”
Hablemosle claro a la ciudadanía: ¿Hay o no diálogo? ¿La via es fin de usurpación o elecciones?
Maduro y su mafia descuartizan Asamblea Nacional y van a Noruega como motolitos.
Ratifico respaldo a @jguaido pero mi responsabilidad es decir que no estoy de acuerdo con caso Noruega pic.twitter.com/Fzl5mVmMzt
— Antonio Ledezma (@alcaldeledezma) May 26, 2019
Soy Venezuela, another coalition of opposition parties, published a statement this week “categorically rejecting” the talks, accusing Maduro of attempting to “extend his satrapy and mock the dignity and democratic sentiments of the Venezuelan people.”
“The delinquents who usurp power in Venezuela do not have honor nor their word, as the parodies that have been previous dialogues amply prove,” the statement read.
Outside of Venezuela, Guaidó lost one of his most vocal allies in American Spanish-language media over the talks: libertarian Peruvian television host Jaime Bayly.
Bayly lambasted the talks last week, when Guaidó was still claiming that the talks were not “false dialogue” but not yet using the term “mediation.”
“It has been a sad day for me,” Bayly told the audience of his late-night program in Miami. “I am a little disappointed. I don’t understand anything anymore … this is a capital error. … I have defended Juan Guaidó arduously all these months but now I am disappointed, I won’t hide it.”
Argentine journalist Laureano Pérez Izquierdo similarly lamented in the pages of Infobae yesterday that the talks could once again turn Maduro’s political prisoners into “bargaining chips.”
“Those imprisoned leaders should not be part of any pact. Without conditions, they should be liberated by the regime before interim President Juan Guaidó’s envoys … sit at the same table with delegates from Miraflores,” the Venezuelan presidential palace that Maduro illegally occupies, Pérez wrote.
“The [Maduro] government has not shown any signs of good will. Why trust this time?” he asked.