Maduro hails start of Norway-brokered talks with opposition

Agence France-Presse . Caracas | Published at 02:55pm on May 18, 2019

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Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro and defence minister Vladimir Padrino raising their arms during the march of loyalty with the superior staff of the Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces and all military personnel stationed in the ZODI Aragua state, Venezuela on May 17, 2019. — AFP photo

President Nicolas Maduro welcomed Friday the ‘beginning of talks’ with the Venezuelan opposition in Norway, after months of bloody clashes between the two sides.

‘The talks have begun nicely to move toward agreements of peace, agreement and harmony, and I ask for the support of all Venezuelan people to advance on the path of peace,’ Maduro said in a declaration before 6,500 troops in the northern state of Aragua.

Confronted with the worst socio-economic crisis in the oil-producing country’s recent history, the socialist leader added that ‘Venezuela has to process its conflicts’ and seek solutions ‘by way of peace.’

He declared the ‘beginning and exploration of conversations and dialogues’ with the opposition.

The ceremony was attended by the Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez and Miranda state Governor Hector Rodriguez, the government’s representatives in the Oslo talks.

Maduro hailed the ‘good news’ hours after Norway reported on preliminary contacts between the parties.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza gave the first official confirmation from Caracas of its involvement in what Norway referred to as exploratory discussions in Oslo.

The mediation bid comes after a months-long power struggle between National Assembly leader Juan Guaido and the socialist president, with sometimes deadly street clashes.

Maduro on Thursday made no direct reference to the meetings, but said Rodriguez was ‘on a very important mission for peace in the country… in Europe.’

So far, details of the exact process underway in Oslo have been scant, but US-backed opposition leader Guaido — recognized as interim president by dozens of countries — denied on Thursday that any direct negotiations had taken place.

Norway’s foreign ministry said in a statement it had made ‘preliminary contacts with representatives of the main political actors of Venezuela.’

These were ‘part of an exploratory phase, with the aim of contributing to finding a solution to the situation in the country,’ it added.

The opposition said it was being represented by National Assembly vice president Stalin Gonzalez and former lawmaker Gerardo Blyde.

Maduro has been shunned by much of the international community for presiding over elections widely-dismissed as a sham and the oil-rich Latin American country’s economic collapse as well as for brutally suppressing dissent.

Shortages of basic goods have forced millions to flee Venezuela.