Venezuela's Maduro, opposition sign 'social protection' agreeement
The two sides signed a humanitarian agreement.
(AFP) - The government of Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition broke a political stalemate Saturday with a broad social accord, and the US government responded by allowing a major US oil company to resume operations in Venezuela.
The breakthrough signaled a potential easing of a grinding economic and political crisis in Venezuela. It will impact world oil markets and could ease a massive flow of refugees from Venezuela throughout the region.
The accord reached at a hotel in Mexico City represents "hope for all of Latin America," said Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, a sponsor of the talks.
The two sides signed a humanitarian agreement on education, health, food security, flood response and electricity programs, and agreed to continue talks on presidential elections scheduled for 2024.
Venezuela’s political crisis has worsened since Maduro declared himself victor of a contested 2018 election, which was widely seen as fraudulent, and generated widespread street protests.
The US Treasury Department said the accord on Saturday marks "important steps in the right direction to restore democracy" in Venezuela, and responded by issuing a license to Chevron Corp to resume limited oil extraction operations in Venezuela.
The license will remain in effect for six months while the Biden administration assesses whether the Maduro government meets commitments made in the accord, Treasury said.
The relaxation of curbs on Chevron’s operations in Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves, would allow the nation to move toward re-entering global oil markets.
International efforts to resolve the Venezuelan crisis have gained strength since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pressure it has placed on global energy supplies.
A joint statement by Canada, the United States, Britain and the EU pledged "willingness to review sanctions" on Venezuela but demanded that it release political prisoners, respect press freedom and guarantee independence of the judiciary and electoral bodies.
The powerful Democratic chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, said the Biden administration should move slowly.
"If Maduro again tries to use these negotiations to buy time to further consolidate his criminal dictatorship, the United States... must snap back the full force of our sanctions that brought his regime to the negotiating table in the first place," Menendez said in a statement.
Despite its huge oil reserves, Venezuela suffers grinding poverty and a political crisis that has led a UN-estimated seven million Venezuelans to flee the country in recent years. Food, medicine and such basics as soap and toilet paper are often in short supply.
Maduro’s opposition is seeking free and fair presidential elections, next due in 2024, while Caracas wants the international community to recognize Maduro as the rightful president and to lift sanctions, particularly a US oil embargo and freeze on the nation’s overseas assets.
Venezuelan officials said prior to the Mexico City talks, which ended 15 months of stalemate, that they expected a global mechanism to restore access to Venezuelan funds frozen in the international financial system.
The money would be used to improve public health care and the power grid, according to a statement released by government negotiator Jorge Rodriguez, who did not specify the amount or where the funds were blocked.
After the contested 2018 elections, almost 60 countries, including the United States, recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as acting president.
Still to be hashed out at the negotiating table are how elections in 2024 might unfold to ensure that the opposition will take part.
The Unitary Platform opposition group has not reached consensus over the conditions it requires to take part in the vote, a source close to the negotiations told AFP.
Guaido’s influence has waned in recent years, and he has lost key allies both at home and in the region, where many countries have since elected leftist presidents.
Colombian leader Gustavo Petro has become a new actor in the talks since taking the reins as his country’s first leftist president in August.
He has worked to improve his country’s relationship with Venezuela, resuming diplomatic ties for the first time since 2019, when then president Ivan Duque refused to recognize Maduro’s election.