Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been making much ado about his “human rights council,” a group which initiated a meeting between Maduro and former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski this week. But the talks yielded no progress, and the death toll rose to 41 today.
“There are no negotiations here. No pacts,” Maduro announced after his talks with Capriles, who is seen by many in the opposition as a moderate left-wing politician who is hindering the progress of the anti-socialist, anti-Chavista protesters. Prominent members of the opposition like Popular Will party leader Leopoldo López, who has been in prison for two months, and ousted Congresswoman María Corina Machado, who the government attacked with teargas this month, opposed the talks suggesting they legitimize the government. Maduro, in officially declaring that it is impossible anything will come out of the talks, adds fuel to the growing frustration within the true opposition at who the Venezuelan government has been attempting to convince the international media the opposition is.
Despite announcing last week that the talks would be a step forward in the peace process between anti-Chavistas and the government, and claiming to want to reach a compromise with the opposition in a New York Times column, Maduro definitively removed the possibility of yielding to any protester demands, particularly an end to violent attacks on unarmed civilians by the military.
While the government continues to tout the new talks, the death toll in the crisis that began with López’s arrest continues to rise. A Bolivarian National Guardsman died yesterday, the 40th casualty of the protests. Also dying yesterday was young protester Mariana Ceballos, who had been in a coma for a month after a Chávez sympathizer ran her over with a car during a protest, bringing the death toll to 41. Possibly adding to that death toll is Nairobi Pinto, a journalist at government-controlled Globovision who was kidnapped this week, but not heard from since her disappearance at the hands of masked gunmen. A friend of Pinto’s told Argentina’s Infobae that there is no doubt in her mind that Pinto was kidnapped “for political reasons,” as an open dissident of the Venezuelan government.
The mediation between Maduro and Capriles is being moderated by the Union of South American States, a widely-considered left-wing coalition among socialist Bolivarian nations. The opposition has called for the Catholic Church to intervene, though no plans for such negotiations have been set. The Venezuelan Catholic Church has been extremely vocal in condemning Maduro’s government, and in particular condemning the “abusive repression and judicial persecution” of the opposition.