By Corina Pons and Alexandra Ulmer
CARACAS Venezuela's opposition said on Wednesday that talks with the government were "frozen" after officials failed to attend meetings the previous day, throwing cold water on Vatican-brokered attempts to bridge the country's deep political crisis. Though the formal talks, which began last month, appeared to have led to the release of a handful of detained activists, hopes for real rapprochement were always slim. The two sides are fundamentally at loggerheads, with the opposition seeking the ouster of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, while authorities vow he will not leave office before his term ends in 2019."The government, in an irresponsible manner, froze the dialogue process by not showing up to two technical meetings last night," opposition coalition leader Jesus Torrealba told Reuters. Opposition activists suggested Maduro backed away after the National Assembly on Tuesday held a heated session in which they slammed him over a drug scandal involving his family.
Two nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro's wife and a ruling party lawmaker, were found guilty this month on U.S. charges that they tried to carry out a multimillion-dollar drug deal to help their family stay in power."The government is using the debate as an excuse," said two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, accusing authorities of not truly being committed to talks. "The government has not complied with any of its promises. They promised to free political prisoners; there are more than 100 imprisoned. They promised (to open) a humanitarian channel; not a single medicine has come in."
Venezuela's Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the dialogue. It was not clear if the talks could be revived or if the opposition would resume a more militant agenda, which before the talks included street protests and putting Maduro on trial before the National Assembly.
Dialogue had divided the diverse opposition coalition, with some activists feeling the government was duping the opposition to buy time. Sit-downs in past years eased some tensions in the streets, but also showed little progress on core issues.The situation in oil-rich Venezuela has worsened in the last few months, with a recession leaving millions unable to find or afford food amid shortages and spiraling inflation. The opposition blames Maduro, who is unpopular, for the crisis, and has been vying to remove him via a recall referendum. The former bus driver and union leader, however, has said the opposition is actually seeking to foment a veiled coup against him and has vowed to see out his term. (Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Girish Gupta; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)
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