Venezuelan opposition, Norway call on Maduro government to resume talks
CARACAS / MEXICO CITY, Oct. 17 (Reuters) – The chairman of the Venezuelan opposition negotiating team during talks with the government on Sunday urged President Nicolas Maduro’s administration to resume dialogue as soon as possible, after the government suspended its participation this weekend.
Maduro’s government put conversations on ice after Colombian businessman Alex Saab, a Venezuelan envoy, was extradited from Cape Verde to the United States on Saturday on charges of corruption.
This is the latest setback in Norwegian-sponsored talks between the two sides, which have yet to make concrete headway towards ending Venezuela’s long social and economic crisis.
A majority of Venezuelans live in poverty, suffer from gasoline shortages and frequent blackouts. Millions of people have emigrated, seeking work and better living conditions.
“We urge our counterpart to restart the session in Mexico as soon as possible to produce the necessary agreements,” said opposition negotiator Gerardo Blyde, speaking from Mexico City.
Norway echoed the call on Twitter, saying negotiations are the only solution.
“We will continue to work so that the parties continue, as soon as possible, their important efforts at the negotiating table,” the Norwegian foreign ministry tweeted.
Socialist Party lawmaker Jorge Rodriguez, who heads the government’s negotiating team, announced the suspension on Saturday.
The Venezuelan government in September appointed Saab – who was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped in Cape Verde to refuel – as negotiator. His inclusion in the negotiating team was widely viewed by Maduro’s critics as an attempt to delay his extradition.
The US Department of Justice indicted Saab in 2019 as part of a bribery program to take advantage of Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate.
The United States has also imposed sanctions on him for allegedly orchestrating a network of corruption that Washington says allowed Saab and Maduro to profit from a state-run food subsidy scheme.
Saab’s lawyers called the US accusations “politically motivated.”
Dozens of supporters held up signs calling for Saab’s release at a rally in Caracas on Sunday attended by his wife, Camilla Fabri.
“What bothers the United States the most is that my husband, Alex Saab, will never give in,” Fabri said, also reading a letter from Saab where he says he cannot cooperate with the United States. United because he has committed no crime.
Saab is scheduled to appear for the first time in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday.
Hours after Saab’s extradition, Venezuela revoked the house arrest of six former executives of refiner Citgo, a US subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA.
Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Sharay Angulo in Mexico; Additional reports by Cassandra Garrison; Written by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney
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