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Venezuela opposition says Vatican-sponsored talks with the government 'frozen'

Venezuela's opposition has said talks with the government have been 'frozen.' Difficulties have arisen after a debate in the National Assembly targeted the president's family over involvement in a US drug scandal.

Efforts by the Venezuelan opposition to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro have taken another turn after a debate in the National Assembly (photo) turned attention to a drug scandal involving two nephews of the president's wife.

"The government is using the debate as an excuse," said opposition leader and governor of Miranda state, Henrique Capriles. He claimed that Maduro's government was not truly committed to talks brokered by the Vatican to bridge the country's deep political divide.

Venezuela | Oppositionsführer Henrique Capriles (Reuters/M. Bello)

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles

"The government has not complied with any of its promises," Capriles said on Wednesday. "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."

Opposition coalition leader Jesus Torrealba said: "The government, in an irresponsible manner, froze the dialogue process by not showing up to two technical meetings last night." 

Spain's former premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and US diplomat Thomas Shannon were reported to be holding or seeking meetings with both sides.

The opposition coalition has been trying to oust Maduro, who has vowed not to leave office before the end of his term in 2019.

Stormy assembly

The opposition has suggested the breakdown in talks was triggered by a heated session in the National Assembly on Tuesday when Maduro's family came under fire for involvement in a US drug scandal.

Venezuela Sitzung Regierung-Opposition in Caracas Nicolas Maduro (Reuters/M. Bello)

President Nicolas Maduro

Earlier this month, a US court found two nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro's wife and a ruling party lawmaker, guilty on drug trafficking conspiracy charges for smuggling 800 kilograms of cocaine from the presidential hangar at Caracas airport to Honduras for shipment to the United States. They face 20 to 30 years in prison.

In recordings played at the trial, the nephews claimed to have had complete control of the presidential hangar at the Simón Bolívar airport in Maiquetía, outside Caracas, and that government officials controlled the Cartel of the Suns, a group of high-ranking military officers thought to be drug traffickers.

While US prosecutors typically do not give defendants opportunities to cooperate after trial, they may make an exception with the two men because of their close links to the president's family and the information they may have. The US estimates that about 200 tons of cocaine travel annually through Venezuela on their way to various points in the United States and Europe.

Capriles under investigation

Opposition leader Capriles is also facing a challenge from Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez who announced via Twitter on Wednesday that she had filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office against him.

Rodriguez accused Capriles of making false accusations and "falsification of a public document," which may relate to Capriles' allegation earlier this week that the nephews held diplomatic passports when they were arrested in Haiti in November 2015. She has also called for an investigation:

President Maduro and his wife have avoided commenting on the case except to suggest that their relatives were "illegally detained" and "abducted" by US authorities.

The economic situation in oil-rich Venezuela has left millions of people struggling to acquire food, medicine and other basic goods amid shortages and spiraling inflation. The country's currency, the bolivar, has lost 99.6 percent of its value on the black market in the past five years.

jm/cw (EFE, Reuters)

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