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Venezuela Government, Opposition Meet with Mediators in Dominican Republic | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Spain’s former President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, center, is escorted by Venezuelan congressmen including Timoteo Zambrano, left, and Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup, second left, after their meeting, in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Top government officials and Venezuela’s opposition met with a group of mediators in the Dominican Republic to discuss and set the basis for a negotiation among the current unpleasant conditions of a political standoff and an expanding economic crisis, according to both sides.

With low oil prices causing severe recession, the OPEC nation is struggling accompanied with a falling-down socialist economic model. Furthermore, President Nicolas Maduro is locked in a standoff with the legislature after the opposition won a sweeping majority last year.

Both sides stated that they met with former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and former presidents Martin Torrijos of Panama and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic. U.S. State Department announced on Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken to Zapatero to welcome the initiative and said that the United States was more than ready to support the mediators.

The representatives of the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition told the mediators that any talks with the government shall include discussion of a recall referendum on Maduro’s rule, in addition to the release of jailed opposition leaders, foreign humanitarian assistance to cope with chronic shortages and also respect for laws passed by the congress; according to the opposition.

“These points were taken by the ex-presidents to the representatives of the ruling party, with whom there has been no direct encounter whatsoever,” the coalition said in a statement. “This has been an encounter with the mediators.

Moreover, government officials had also met with the same mediators, according to a tweet by Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez.

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela informs that it has held the first encounters for a dialogue between the government and the opposition,” wrote Rodriguez.

Opposition leaders have been deeply skeptical of talks with the government, describing them as a stalling mechanism that would allow Maduro to gain time.

Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who is leading the recall push, said in an interview this week that the only way to resolve the crisis was through a vote.

The two sides held talks in 2014 amid months of violent anti-government street protests that left more than 40 people dead. Both sides agree that the dialogue did not produce any substantive agreements.

The National Electoral Council is accused by opposition leaders of stalling their effort to recall Maduro, whose popularity in March dropped to 27 percent according to local pollster Datanalisis.

They also say the ruling Socialist Party has used a pro-government Supreme Court to shoot down nearly every law passed by Congress since the opposition won a two-thirds majority of seats in December.

Maduro insists his government is the victim of an “economic war” led by business leaders with the backing of Washington, which has been an ideological adversary of Caracas since the presidency of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.