Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles today pulled out of talks with President Nicolas Maduro after the death toll rose to 13 and both sides traded insults over the weekend.
Maduro last week called on governors to meet at the presidential palace in Caracas today for talks, warning there would be legal consequences for skipping. Capriles said Feb. 22 he would attend while demanding the government free opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was imprisoned last week on charges of inciting violence at rallies.
“How do I go amid the repression, amid the violation of human rights,” Capriles, a two-time presidential hopeful and currently a state governor, told reporters in Caracas today. “The presidential palace is not the place for dialog in the country.”
The talks were scheduled after two weeks of unrest that have claimed the lives of 13 people, according to the government. Demonstrators protesting shortages of basic goods, the world’s fastest inflation and rising crime today blockaded streets in eastern Caracas while government supporters on motorbikes gathered outside the palace saying they wouldn’t allow the opposition to retake power.
Maduro, who beat Capriles in April by the narrowest margins in 45 years, yesterday accused his opponents of sabotaging the economy and banding with the U.S. to destabilize his government.
“Maduro’s rhetoric and attitude toward the protesters make it very difficult for the opposition to sit down with him in good faith,” Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the Council of the Americas, said by telephone from New York today. “Capriles negotiating with Maduro while his colleague is in prison would be a little bit problematic.”
The Catholic Church should mediate any future talks between the two sides, the opposition governor said.
Maduro, a former bus driver and unionist, today spoke about motorbike taxi rates and the benefits of wearing a helmet in between accusations that the opposition is working with foreign powers to overthrow his government.
“Venezuela is facing a fascist coup that’s trying to do away with democracy,” he said.
Demonstrations have turned violent on a nightly basis in Caracas since Lopez called on the capital’s residents Feb. 12 to follow the lead of students in western states Tachira and Merida in protesting the government.
Tachira Governor Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, a member of Maduro’s party, in a radio interview today defended students’ rights to protest and said the government should free Lopez.
“Vielma’s comments are clearly a slap in the face for Maduro,” Michael Henderson, Latin America analyst at Maplecroft political risk consulting firm, said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bath, England. “The comments point to a worrying underlying trend –- a continuous erosion of his credibility as president.”
Any dialog with the government must focus on the release of political prisoners including Lopez, the suspension of all court proceedings against detained students and the disarmament of pro-government “paramilitaries,” Caracas mayor and opposition leader Antonio Ledezma said in an open letter to Maduro posted on his Twitter account yesterday.
The public prosecutor’s office said in a statement today 45 people have been jailed for violating public order since Feb. 12. Capriles said 242 protesters are still detained.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Feb. 19 condemned the violence in Venezuela. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement Feb. 21 urged Maduro’s government to end efforts to “stifle dissent” and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today said the government is concerned about unrest in Venezuela.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff told reporters today from Brussels she won’t comment on the internal affairs of the country.
In an effort to mitigate a record dearth of everything from imported food to medicine, Venezuela published rules today allowing companies and individuals to buy and sell U.S. dollars in a regulated market.
Previously, the central bank was the sole supplier of greenbacks, and as foreign reserves fell, less foreign currency was made available to pay for imports.
Venezuela’s benchmark dollar bonds due 2027 jumped 1.91 cents today to 67.66 cents, the highest since Jan. 29, on news of more dollar sales.
Economic growth will slow this year to 0.5 percent from an estimated 1.2 percent in 2013, in both instances falling short of the Latin American average, according to analysts polled by Bloomberg.
“This country is on the highway toward economic debacle,” Capriles said. “As long as there’s discontent, there will be protests.”
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