September 26, 2017 / 4:11 PM / 21 days ago

Venezuela opposition won't attend scheduled talks with government

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition said on Tuesday it will not join scheduled talks with President Nicolas Maduro’s government, undercutting a dialogue effort that has been viewed with suspicion by many adversaries of the ruling Socialist Party.

The government has eagerly promoted the talks amid global criticism that Maduro is turning the country into a dictatorship, while the opposition has always insisted the talks should not distract from the country’s economic crisis.

The two sides held separate exploratory conversations with the president of the Dominican Republic earlier this month. But the opposition said the government has not made enough progress on issues such as human rights to warrant full bilateral talks.

“Negotiation is not to go and waste time, to look at someone’s face, but rather so that Venezuelans can have immediate solutions,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles told reporters.

“We cannot have a repeat of last year’s failure,” he said, referring to Vatican-brokered talks in 2016 that fell apart after the opposition said the government was simply using them as a stalling tactic.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The opposition wants a date for the next presidential election, due by the end of 2018, with guarantees it will be free and fair. It is also calling for freedom for hundreds of jailed activists, a foreign humanitarian aid corridor and respect for the opposition-led congress.

With Spain pushing for the European Union to adopt restrictive measures against members of the Venezuelan government, Maduro may be hoping to dodge further sanctions.

The United States has issued several rounds of sanctions against Venezuela, primarily in response to the creation of an all-powerful super body called the Constituent Assembly that was elected in a July vote the opposition labeled fraudulent.

Many countries have refused to recognize the assembly, which Maduro insists has brought peace to the country of 30 million. He says opposition leaders are coup-plotters seeking to sabotage socialism in oil-rich Venezuela under the guise of peaceful protests.

Amid a fourth straight year of recession, millions of Venezuelans are suffering food shortages and rampant inflation, which the government blames on an “economic war” led by the opposition and fueled by recent sanctions.

Reporting by Diego Ore and Andreina Aponte, Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Diane Craft and Dan Grebler

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