Venezuela's government and opposition agreed Tuesday to hold presidential elections in the second half of next year, in a new round of negotiations after a year-long suspension.
"This is the first step in a much broader agreement," the head of the government delegation Jorge Rodriguez said in Bridgetown. Opposition representative Gerardo Blyde, called the agreement a "solid step" forward.
International support for elections
International observers were present at the meeting being held in Barbados, and an agreement was signed at the talks mediated by Norway. Election observer missions from the EU, UN, African Union and Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations were also invited.
The US, EU, Canada and UK said in a joint statement that this was "a necessary step in the continuation of an inclusive dialogue process and the restoration of democracy in Venezuela."
"We continue to call for the unconditional release of all those unjustly detained, the independence of the electoral process and judicial institutions, freedom of expression including for members of the press, and respect for human and political rights," they added.
The signed agreement allows candidates to contest the election, provided they are qualified as per the law. However, opposition candidate, Maria Corina Machado, considered a favorite to challenge current President Nicolas Maduro, has been disqualified from running for a period of 15 years on charges including "promoting sanctions."
Renewed interest in solving crisis
Venezuela's opposition, which enjoys support from several countries, said it regarded Maduro's re-election in 2018 as fraudulent.
Discussions to resolve the crisis had begun in August 2021, but were suspended after Alex Saab, a Venezuelan national was extradited to the US for working as a money launderer for Maduro. Talks again resumed in November last year, but broke down once more.
The US has supported the Venezuelan opposition and strengthened sanctions against the Latin American nation.
Venezuela has the world's largest reserves of oil. After the Russian war in Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis, international interest in easing the political deadlock in Venezuela has been growing.
The US had said it would ease some sanctions if it felt Maduro had given enough ground for the opposition after the meeting, multiple sources told Reuters.
Venezuela and the US held talks last week toward a deal that could allow at least one additional foreign oil firm to take Venezuelan crude oil for debt repayment if Maduro resumed negotiations with the opposition.
tg/ab (AFP, AP, Reuters)