Maduro says he’s willing to begin talks with Venezuela opposition leader Guaido

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is willing to sit down to dialogue with opposition leader Juan Guaido with the involvement of the Norwegian government and other mediators, he said on Wednesday night in a live broadcast on state television.

Earlier Wednesday, opposition spokesmen said that Norway had been facilitating contact between the two sides as a precursor to mediating potential talks to resolve the country’s ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis.

Freddy Guevara, a member of Guaido’s team, said that “this is a process that has already started,” adding that there would be “many meetings” in search of an agreement to ease Venezuela’s crisis after a seven-year recession and four years of hyperinflation. Basic public services continue to crumble and Venezuelans continue to emigrate, following in the footsteps of over 5 million who have already left the country.

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Guaido invoked the constitution to declare himself president in 2019, and has been recognized as the head of state by the United States, Canada and other Western countries. But Maduro has retained the support of the military and allies such as Russia, China and Cuba, and neither the opposition nor U.S. sanctions have managed to dislodge him from power.

“Now Guaido wants to sit down to talk with me. It is possible that the ‘Empire’ gave him the order,” Maduro said, referring to the United States.

“Your presidency is over… you must speak with Maduro,” he continued, calling Guaido a “puppet of the North.”

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Maduro said he would agree to talks with the involvement of the European Union and Norwegian government, as well as the International Contact Group, a coalition of countries from Europe and Latin America focused on finding a solution to Venezuela’s crisis.

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“Whenever they want, wherever they want and however they want, I am ready to meet with all the opposition to see what comes out of it,” he said. “If something good comes out and they abandon the path of war, invasion, attacks, the coup, and come to the campaign trail, here we wait for you.”

Venezuela is set to hold gubernatorial elections later this year and it is not yet clear if the opposition will participate. In December 2020, most of the opposition boycotted legislative elections, saying voting conditions were not fair.

Guaido on Tuesday proposed progressively and conditionally lifting U.S. sanctions as part of a plan to get the government to reach a deal with an opposition coalition. He proposed the agreement include a schedule for “free and fair” general elections and the release of political detainees, among other demands.

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On Tuesday, Maduro had said in response that the opposition leader could join talks already underway, without giving further details. He said Guaido had issued the address because he “was left out of everything, he was isolated and defeated.”

Before a dialogue is set both sides must agree on an agenda, who will make up the negotiating teams, and what the ground rules will be, Guevara said.

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“Norway has been in this process,” he added, saying the country’s representatives had been speaking and coordinating with each side separately. He did not offer any other details.

Norway facilitated negotiations between Maduro and Guaido delegates in Oslo and Barbados from May to August 2019, talks that ultimately failed after government representatives withdrew in protest at the United States tightening sanctions on Venezuela’s vital oil sector.

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The location for the potential negotiations “could be from Colombia to Mexico, passing through an island or Norway,” Guaido said Wednesday.

Norway’s foreign ministry directed a question for comment to a statement on its website saying “Norway remains in contact with the political and social actors of Venezuela on a regular basis,” but declined to comment further.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Sarah Kinosian, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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