(Bloomberg) — Venezuela’s government and a coalition of the nation’s opposition restarted talks on Tuesday that could pave the way for sanctions relief in exchange for a demonstration of democratic principles.
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If the talks lead to a more competitive presidential race and relief from US-imposed restrictions that have crippled Venezuela’s economy, the moment could be a turning point for a country that has struggled for decades to regain its global standing. The long-awaited resumption of negotiations comes just five days before the opposition holds primaries to select a candidate for the 2024 presidential race. Nicolás Maduro, who became president in 2013, is widely expected to run for a third consecutive term.
In a document-signing ceremony in Barbados, the parties agreed to hold a presidential vote in the second half of 2024, inviting five international organizations to observe the vote and allowing all qualified candidates to participate. The leading opposition contender, María Corina Machado, is currently banned from holding public office, though the agreement may give her a path to restore her eligibility. If she can’t, the agreement is likely to be criticized by democracy advocates for allowing Maduro to sideline his most popular competitor.
“This is the first step in the path towards all Venezuelans’ wishes for sanctions to be lifted progressively,” the head of the government’s delegation, lawmaker Jorge Rodríguez, said in a subsequent news conference. “In upcoming days we’ll see results from today’s accord signed with a faction of the opposition.”
Read more: Venezuela Government, Opposition to Resume Talks in US Deal
The talks, mediated by Norway, will take place as a part of a wider negotiation between Maduro’s government and Joe Biden’s administration. The US has said it would consider lifting some oil and banking sanctions as long as conditions for free and fair presidential elections are met.
Machado, the opposition front-runner, is disqualified through 2030 from holding office under a decision this year that alleged she was linked to several “corruption plots” and was an accomplice in the economic blockade and sanctions against Venezuela. If she nevertheless wins the primary vote by a large margin, as expected, it will put pressure on Maduro’s regime to allow her to run.
Her participation could represent the most serious challenge to his rule since 2013, when he narrowly defeated Henrique Capriles. If she remains banned, the US will face tough questions about whether democracy has been sufficiently restored to end sanctions.
Speaking on state TV on Monday, Maduro said he would “not endorse irregularities” in negotiations with the opposition and made veiled references that Machado would not be able to participate. The head of the opposition’s delegation, Gerardo Blyde, said the opposition received guarantees in Barbados that barred candidates and political parties would be allowed a path to restore their eligibility.
Prior Venezuelan elections have been marred by accusations of fraud and government meddling. As part of the agreement, the opposition has sought for credible international observers to legitimize the vote. The Carter Center, the EU, the Inter American Union of Electoral Bodies, the African Union and a UN panel will be invited to witness the election, according to the agreement.
–With assistance from Fabiola Zerpa.
(Corrects date of Maduro’s victory over Capriles in seventh paragraph)
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