Venezuela takes first step out of political stalemate

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President of the National Assembly of Venezuela Jorge Rodriguez signs a preliminary agreement during talks in Mexico City, MexicoImage source, Reuters

Venezuela's government and the opposition have signed a preliminary agreement to find a way out of the country's political crisis.

During talks in Mexico, the two issued a joint statement requesting that billions of dollars frozen abroad be released to help fund social projects.

It comes after years of failed attempts to solve a political deadlock.

In response, the US said that it would allow the American oil company Chevron to resume some activity in Venezuela.

Following President Nicolás Maduro's election in 2013, he has grown increasingly authoritarian.

His crackdown on opposition activists ultimately led to the US imposing sanctions on his regime and recognising opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president in 2019 after a contested election.

Since then, several rounds of talks aimed at finding a way out of the political deadlock have gone nowhere - with the last negotiations failing just over a year ago.

But now, the government and the opposition - with the help of Norway as mediator - have drawn up an agreement that aims to ensure that billions of dollars frozen abroad will be gradually released by a UN-managed fund, to be put towards healthcare, education and food aid.

The funds were blocked by foreign banks over the alleged irregularities in the 2018 elections.

The progress made on Saturday has been welcomed by the US, who described it as a step in the right direction.

It also said oil company Chevron would be able to resume some activity in Venezuela, including importing Venezuelan crude in the US.

The agreement represents "hope for all of Latin America," Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said in comments cited by AFP.

The BVB's South America correspondent Katy Watson warns, however, that it is still early days for the talks.

No progress has been made so far on one critical issue - the 2024 presidential election.

The Venezuelan opposition is calling for free elections, while President Maduro is seeking full recognition of his rule from the US and European countries.

Venezuela has been caught in a downward spiral for years with growing political discontent further fuelled by skyrocketing hyperinflation, power cuts, and shortages of food and medicine.

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