Maduro and part of the political alliance opposing him have agreed to meet for a dialogue session. The suprise annoucement came shortly after the opposition called for new mass protests.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the major opposition party Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) announced Monday that they would meet on October 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita to try and resolve the country's longstanding political crisis.
The opposition has, for months, been calling for Maduro to be removed from office. Although a referendum on his future has been blocked, the country's national assembly has begun proceedings to put him on trial for violating democracy.
Sunday's meeting, which will be mediated by The Vatican, the Union of South American Nations and three international leaders, will attempt to find a solution to a worsening crisis, amid a three-year recession that has paralyzed the country.
The announcement about the talks came on the same day that Maduro paid a surprise visit to the Pope Francis at the Vatican. "At last we are beginning a dialogue between the opposition and the legitimate government," Maduro said from Rome.
Meetings in Venezuela
Back in Venezuela, Papal envoy Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig also met MUD alliance secretary Jesus Torrealba. Although he will attend the talks, Torrealba expressed reservations about their potential to effect change.
"Dialogue cannot mean a government strategy to win time... It's a space to fight for a better country for all," he said.
The opposition MUD also issued a statement calling for the talks to be public and held in Caracas rather than on Margarita.
An internally divided opposition
Rather than uniting the MUD and an alliance of various groups opposing Maduro and his ruling socialist government, the surprise dialogue announcement has exposed divisions among their leaders.
Two-time presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles said that he found out about the talks on television.
"No dialogue has begun in Venezuela," he said. "These devils want to use the good faith of Pope Francis to buy more time."
Before the dialogue announcement, the opposition alliance had also recently called for new nationwide rallies to take place this Wednesday to protest the halting of a referendum that would have challenged Maduro's presidency.
Capriles stated that these rallies would go ahead as planned, as would all other protests until the government "respects the constitution."
Jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez also expressed opposition to the political dialogue. In a statement, he said priority should be given instead to resolving the economic crisis that has led to soaring inflation and widespread food shortages.
A referendum deferred
The surprise dialogue announcement throws into question how the opposition will proceed next. Last week, the election board halted a recall referendum which would have challenged the Maduro presidency. In the wake of the ruling, the wives of jailed opposition leaders led a rally of thousands of Venezuelans in Caracas against the socialist government.
A recent poll found that more than 75 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro and that he would likely lose in a new election.
cb/rc (Reuters, EFE, AFP)