December 19, 2014
Follow-up meeting scheduled for next tuesdaySunday, April 13, 2014
Unasur mission to attend second round of talks in Caracas
Quito — Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s foreign minister, announced yesterday that Unasur’s (Union of South American Nations) foreign ministers will attend next Tuesday’s follow up meeting between Venezuela’s government and the opposition, as they also did on Thursday.
The first round of talks between pro-Chávez government representatives and opposition leaders started on Thursday and is intended to stem two months of political unrest, which has left 40 dead.
The more radical wing of the opposition, which is seeking Maduro’s ouster through the street protests, was absent.
The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador joined the talks with the opposition’s Democratic Unity Round Table alliance (MUD) including Secretary Ramón Guillermo Aveledo and Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro last year in the narrowest election in 45 years. Vatican representative Aldo Giordano read a letter from Pope Francis supporting national reconciliation.
The Unasur committee was composed by Brazil’s foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo and his counterparts from Colombia, María Angélica Holguín, and Patiño from Ecuador.
The talks took place at the presidential palace in Caracas and lasted more than five and a half hours, ending at about 1:55am Caracas time on Friday. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro agreed to an opposition proposal to follow up with a meeting on April 15.
Meanwhile, thousands of anti-government protesters, lead by opposition leader María Corina Machado, were on the capital’s streets for rival rallies marking two months since the first bloodshed of the recent unrest around the South American OPEC nation.
Anti-riot police and National Guard officials dispersed crowds of hardline opposition protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets yesterday. Some demonstrators threw stones and other objects at security officers, who were trying to stop the students’ march from advancing.
Since early morning hours, hundreds of National Guard agents and police officers were present in the main access avenues and streets leading to Plaza Venzuela in the capital city. There were reports of clashes between protesters and the security forces.
In addition, opposition mayor of metropolitan Caracas Antonio Ledezma said: “We are strongly against all abuses and agressions. This government is afraid of students who are bravely and peacefully demonstrating against the regime”.
“How are we supposed to have a dialogue when we are not allowed to protest peacefully? Dissidence is being criminalized and peaceful marches are being quashed,” he said.
In related news, Machado said yesterday that the government’s goal with the ongoing mediated talks is to divide the opposition coalition.
“It’s obvious that they are traying to divide the forces of unity. This strategy is coming from Havana, but I am certain that they will not be able to confuse Venezuelans, who have been in the streets for 60 days, putting up a fight of citizens,” Machado told local press.
She warned that protesters will continue demonstating in the streets until they achieve political change that gives the country justice and freedom”.
Since protests began in early February, about 650 people have been injured in addition to the 40 fatalities, officials say. More than 2,000 people have been detained, and 174 are still behind bars.
Attacks on journalists
A total of 181 journalists have been the target of attacks, thefts or arbitrary detentions in Venezuela since the start of anti-government protests two months ago, a reporters’ union said yesterday.
The Union of Press Workers said 60 percent of the attacks were carried out by security forces, with just a quarter done by demonstrators on either side.
Since nearly daily protests began in early February, the union has tallied 82 cases of harassment, 40 physical attacks and 35 thefts or destruction of cameras and other materials by the police or demonstrators.
It has also counted 23 arbitrary arrests of reporters, it said.
The protests are denouncing rampant street crime, soaring inflation, poor job prospects and shortages of such essential goods as milk and toilet paper.
They have left 41 dead and more than 650 wounded, and prompted accusations of human rights violations by police.
Herald with Télam, AP, AFP, Bloomberg News