Venezuela rivals begin new crisis negotiations bid

Santo Domingo (AFP) –


President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government and the main opposition coalition resumed talks in the Dominican Republic Friday, aimed at resolving Venezuela's crushing economic and political crisis.

Both sides held preliminary meetings on Friday with foreign ministers from Latin American nations acting as guarantors in the talks.

Dominican President Danilo Medina -- who is hosting the talks with fellow mediator and former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero -- said he expects "good will" to yield positive results.

"This is not a dialogue, but a negotiation. We hope that we can get something important," Medina said of the talks, which are due to end Saturday.

Previous meetings hosted by Medina have failed to take the negotiations beyond preliminary discussions.

The main demand of the Democratic Union Roundtable (MUD) coalition is the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" to allow the import of desperately needed food and medicines and therefore alleviate the worst of the economic crisis -- along with a guarantee of free and fair presidential elections next year.

Maduro, meanwhile, is demanding the opposition work for the lifting of US sanctions which prohibit officials and entities of his government from negotiating new debt deals with US creditors.

He also wants the opposition-dominated parliament to get behind his plan to restructure Venezuela's huge foreign debt, estimated at $150 billion.

In addition to Mexico and Chile -- invited by the MUD -- Bolivia and Nicaragua have joined the talks as allies of Maduro.

The opposition is divided over the talks, with some in the coalition dismissing them as nothing more than an attempt by Maduro to buy time as he continues to consolidate power.

It failed to unseat Maduro in months of violent street protests earlier this year -- which cost the lives of 125 people -- and has since lost further bargaining power in a sobering defeat in regional elections in October.

"We are determined to fight for the basic rights of Venezuelans, the right to health, the right to food, the right to vote, the right to democracy," MUD delegate leader Julio Borges told journalists in the Dominican Republic capital.

Analyst Luis Vicente Leon said skepticism surrounding the talks is "is natural," but that runaway inflation and acute shortages of food and medicines in a collapsed economy could force the parties to compromise this time.