Saturday, April 4, 2020 11:36:51 PM
AFP, Caracas :
Venezuela's opposition leader and self-declared acting president Juan Guaido said Saturday it is unlikely he will resume negotiations with President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido this week survived dramatic attempts to remove him as head of the National Assembly, and called new protests to try to drive out the leftist Maduro, who is overseeing an economy in free fall and accused of acting like a dictator.
"It's not that we don't want a negotiation. It's that we see it as just so highly unlikely. We have been duped over and over," Guaido said in a speech to supporters in Caracas. Aides to Maduro and Guaido held negotiations last year under mediation by Norway but both sides accused each other of breaking terms, and the talks stopped in August.
Just Friday, Guaido's aides said a Norwegian government commission would arrive here within hours. But they also stressed that the negotiation process was over.
Guaido's apparent refusal to resume dialogue followed a new US drive toward diplomacy, almost a year after the US declared Maduro illegitimate and recognized Guaido as interim president.
"Negotiations could open the path out of the crisis through a transitional government that will organize free and fair elections," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. Maduro won a new term in 2018 in elections that were widely criticized internationally as fraudulent, and new presidential polls are not due until 2024.
But elections must take place in 2020 for the National Assembly, the only institution controlled by the opposition - and which the United States and more than 50 other countries see as bringing legitimacy to Guaido.
Millions of Venezuelans have fled a collapsing economy, in which they are no longer able to find or afford basic staples.
But despite the humanitarian catastrophe and biting US sanctions, Maduro maintains power with the support of the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba.
After failing at ousting Maduro in 2019, claiming to have "tried everything," Guaido's popularity fell to 38.9 percent in December after reaching a peak of 63 percent, pollsters Datanalisis say. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday called for Venezuelan negotiations to form a transitional government which would organise fair elections and end the country's long-running political crisis.
Pompeo urged a swift democratic transition in 2020, after a year in which President Donald Trump's administration had been sceptical of Norway-mediated talks involving representatives of socialist President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Last January, Washington and dozens of other countries recognised Guaido as the OPEC nation's legitimate interim president and began ratcheting up sanctions and pressure.
A year later, Maduro remains in power, backed by the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba. A senior administration official told Reuters in recent months that Trump's frustration over the lack of results had spurred aides to ready further actions.
Pompeo, who has frequently denounced Maduro in strong terms, took a more toned-down approach in a statement on Thursday. "A swift negotiated transition to democracy is the most effective and sustainable route to peace and prosperity in Venezuela," he said.
"Negotiations could open the path out of the crisis through a transitional government that will organize free and fair elections," he added, saying such a vote should take place by the end of this year.
Pompeo's statement came days after Maduro's allies tried to install a rival opposition head and group of legislators after security forces blocked Guaido and his supporters from parliament.
Though it has repeatedly called for a political solution, the Trump administration offered little encouragement for Norway-mediated negotiations between envoys of Maduro and Guaido last year, saying such talks should focus on Maduro's exit. The meetings broke down in August.
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