CARACAS – A minority group of opposition parties in Venezuela agreed last Monday to enter negotiations with President Nicolas Maduro’s government without the participation of U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, eroding his efforts to hold together a coalition to confront the socialist administration.
The agreement was signed by representatives of several opposition parties alongside Maduro’s top aides in a nationally televised event attended by foreign diplomats.
It marks the first significant split in the anti-Maduro camp since Guaido, as head of the opposition-controlled congress, declared himself interim president in January, citing what was seen as Maduro’s fraudulent re-election last year. Guaido quickly drew recognition from the U.S. and more than 50 nations.
Lawmaker Timoteo Zambrano, an opposition lawmaker who signed the agreement, was critical of the efforts led by the larger anti-Maduro parties. He didn’t directly mention Guaido, but said that he and the others seek to recover time lost due to the “ambition of some and the mistakes of us all.” He urged support from the international community.
“We ask the governments of the region and the world to listen, value and support this path,” Zambrano said.
The talks will focus on reforming Venezuela’s electoral board as well as finding a solution to the impasse caused by the creation of a pro-government constitutional assembly to rival the opposition-controlled congress.
At least four opposition leaders appeared on state TV to sign the agreement launching the negotiations, though they represent less than one-tenth of seats in the National Assembly. They wield far less power than parties like Guaido’s Popular Will, experts said.
Guaido appeared at a separate event last Monday, saying he considered the announcement of sideline negotiations with the minority opposition parties a “maneuver” that Maduro’s government has employed before to split the opposition.
“We already know what the conclusion was,” said Guaido, noting that those attempts failed to reach solutions.
Guaido a day earlier said that negotiations with the government brokered by Norway had been exhausted, saying Maduro and his allies “have blocked a political solution” to the crisis by “refusing to discuss and agree on a sensible proposal.” Until recently, the talks held on the Caribbean island of Barbados had been seen as the best chance at resolving Venezuela’s crisis. Leaders in Oslo, however, said they left open the possibility of talks.
Despite Guaido’s brave face, some in the opposition acknowledged that by absorbing the attention the new dialogue attempt would complicate efforts both inside and outside Venezuela to secure Maduro’s removal.
Many of the same issues, such as reforming the electoral board, had also been raised by Guaido’s envoys in the Barbados talks. So the government can legitimately claim that it is at least partially addressing longstanding opposition demands.
Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said that some agreements have already been reached on some issues. Both sides are working on an agenda to continue negotiations on further agreements, he said.
“We have not closed, nor will we close, any doors to any initiative that will allow Venezuelans to resolve our troubles,” Rodriguez said, urging other countries not to interfere. “These issues only concern us as Venezuelans.”