Allies of both Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his bitter foe, opposition leader Juan Guaido, have secretly begun exploratory talks as concerns grow about the possible impact of coronavirus, according to sources on both sides.
The discussions emerged from concerns about COVID-19, hyperinflation and growing fuel shortages, as well as worries among some members of the ruling Socialist Party about how to ensure their political survival under a possible change of government as Washington tightens sanctions, the sources said.
The talks, which have no clear agenda, show that allies of both Maduro and Guaido remain unconvinced that they can defeat the other amid a global pandemic and a broad U.S. sanctions program meant to push Maduro from office.
“There are two extremes: Maduro and those who believe that the virus will end Guaido’s leadership, and those on the other side (who) hope this crisis will bring down Maduro,” said an opposition legislator in favor of the rapprochement. “I think we have to find solutions.”
Maduro and Guaido are competing with one another to help combat the effects of the pandemic, with each side convinced the outbreak will undermine the other politically, said the sources, who asked not to be identified.
Activists and rights groups around the world have urged the two factions to seek a truce in order to coordinate the delivery of aid and boost gasoline imports.
The U.S. State Department in March offered to begin lifting parts of the sanctions if members of the Socialist Party form an interim government without Maduro, a plan backed by Guaido but quickly shot down by the government.
Maduro has frequently said he is willing to hold dialogue. “We are ready for dialogue, to understand one another and reach a humanitarian agreement to attend to the coronavirus (pandemic),” Maduro said during a televised broadcast over the weekend, without making reference to any specific set of talks.
Guaido, head of the national assembly who assumed an interim presidency last year after disavowing Maduro’s 2018 re-election, is recognized by the United States and more than 60 countries as the nation’s legitimate leader. But other powers such as China and Russia still back Maduro.
The two sides last year participated in a dialogue brokered by Norway in which the opposition had pressed for a new presidential election. But Maduro’s side walked away from the process in protest at U.S. sanctions.
Maduro assures his government has controlled the coronavirus outbreak in Venezuela with the support of China, while Guaido accuses him of using the pandemic as an excuse for disastrous economic policies.