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Venezuela talks hang by thread as presidential vote looms

February 7, 2018
Associated Press

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Negotiations between Venezuela's government and opposition were hanging by a thread after they failed to reach an agreement on a formula for upcoming presidential elections.

Talks aimed at resolving Venezuela's grinding political and economic crisis have been taking place for weeks, and hope for a breakthrough was running high when they resumed Tuesday in the Dominican Republic.

But the opposition's delegation head Julio Borges said after talks concluded without a deal that he won't sign any agreement that puts Venezuela's democracy at risk.

"We haven't signed, nor will we, any agreement that isn't dignified and worthy of the Venezuelan people," a resigned and frustrated-looking Borges told journalists around midnight. "At the end it will be history and the Venezuelan people who will judge our actions."

Dominican President Danilo Medina, one of the international mediators, said talks would resume Wednesday.

But chief government negotiator Jorge Rodriguez suggested that time for a deal is running up and delivered something of an ultimatum by signing in front of journalists what the government is calling the "final" accord. He said Venezuelans should prepare for presidential elections with or without the opposition.

"We're going to the streets to campaign for votes. .... whichever candidates want to register should do so," said Rodriguez.

Four-digit inflation and widespread shortages of everything from cash to food has collapsed support for President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration.

But he's betting he can still win re-election after having sidelined several prominent opponents and crushed anti-government protests last year that left more than 130 people dead. The government also controls the National Electoral Council, whose credibility to oversee the contest has been questioned by the opposition following two elections last year that were marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.

The Constituent Assembly, which is controlled by the government but considered illegitimate by the U.S. and many foreign governments, has called for elections to take place by the end of April, though it has so far stopped short of setting a date while negotiations continue.

Rodriguez said the sides worked out the last remaining details of a deal in marathon talks Monday in Caracas and were expected to return to the Caribbean Island on Tuesday to ratify it.

But he alleged that U.S. agents out of the Colombian capital of Bogota had ordered the opposition to stand down, an accusation Borges rejected out of hand.



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