Opposition lawmakers stage ‘trial’ of Venezuelan leader


Opposition lawmakers were to stage a “political trial” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday after a blocked bid to oust the deeply unpopular leader through a referendum.

But the proceedings in the opposition-dominated National Assembly are largely seen as symbolic, said one analyst, Luis Vicente Leon.

Maduro has dismissed the mock trial, saying it was not provided for under the constitution and amounted to an attempt to overthrow his embattled government.

The Supreme Court has consistently backed Maduro in declaring decisions by the National Assembly against him to be void.

The gambit by the lawmakers, who accuse Maduro of dereliction of presidential duties, comes a day after the government and some opposition leaders agreed to hold talks starting November 11 to defuse their country’s growing political and economic crisis.

In a sign that it is apparently serious about the talks, the government on Monday released five imprisoned opposition members. None, though, was high-profile.

The opposition, which maintains there are 100 political prisoners in Venezuela, was enraged when electoral authorities last month halted a drive to hold a recall referendum against Maduro.

A march is planned for Thursday towards the presidential palace to protest the stymied plebiscite and maintain pressure.

Nearly 68 percent of Venezuelans wanted the referendum, a Venebarometro poll showed. More than three quarters of the population disapprove of Maduro, according to a recent survey.

The country is suffering shortages of food and other basic necessities, and inflation is expected by the International Monetary Fund to rise to 475 percent this year. The dire situation is blamed on Maduro’s rule and the sharp fall in the price of oil, Venezuela’s main resource.

The opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), continues to demand that the government release jailed opposition leaders and revive the recall referendum process or organize early elections.

– US backs talks –

Fifteen MUD groups — including one of the main ones, the Popular Will, led by its jailed leader Leopoldo Lopez — are against holding talks with the government, saying conditions have not been met.

“If there are fractures, we will have this government for many years more,” said an opposition figure, Henrique Capriles. He added that “the next hours will be decisive” to see whether talks can take place or were merely a government feint.

The United States, which has long had thorny relations with Maduro and his late predecessor Hugo Chavez, has thrown its support behind the talks, which were agreed under mediation by the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations.

Maduro on Monday met with a senior US diplomat, Thomas Shannon, who had traveled to Venezuela to back the dialogue. The two had a “very positive” conversation about the start of the talks, the Venezuelan president said.

Analysts warn that the government may just be trying to buy more time while the opposition risks further internal divisions.

“We have very little time to generate trust in the dialogue. The magnitude of the crisis is far-reaching,” said political scientist and sociologist Francisco Coello.

“The desperation in the street is very high,” he said, referring to the country’s deep economic crisis.

Venezuela’s government is also faced with mounting international scrutiny over its human rights situation.

Several Latin American countries and the European Union on Tuesday called on Venezuela to allow UN rights rapporteurs to visit.

© 2016 AFP

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