Venezuelan opposition leader says talks with Maduro unlikely


Caracas (AFP)

Venezuela's opposition leader and self-declared acting president Juan Guaido said Saturday it is unlikely he will resume negotiations with President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido this week survived dramatic attempts to remove him as head of the National Assembly, and called new protests to try to drive out the leftist Maduro, who is overseeing an economy in free fall and accused of acting like a dictator.

"It's not that we don't want a negotiation. It's that we see it as just so highly unlikely. We have been duped over and over," Guaido said in a speech to supporters in Caracas.

Aides to Maduro and Guaido held negotiations last year under mediation by Norway but both sides accused each other of breaking terms, and the talks stopped in August.

Just Friday, Guaido's aides said a Norwegian government commission would arrive here within hours. But they also stressed that the negotiation process was over.

Guaido's apparent refusal to resume dialogue followed a new US drive toward diplomacy, almost a year after the US declared Maduro illegitimate and recognized Guaido as interim president.

"Negotiations could open the path out of the crisis through a transitional government that will organize free and fair elections," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Maduro won a new term in 2018 in elections that were widely criticized internationally as fraudulent, and new presidential polls are not due until 2024.

But elections must take place in 2020 for the National Assembly, the only institution controlled by the opposition -- and which the United States and more than 50 other countries see as bringing legitimacy to Guaido.

Millions of Venezuelans have fled a collapsing economy, in which they are no longer able to find or afford basic staples.

But despite the humanitarian catastrophe and biting US sanctions, Maduro maintains power with the support of the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba.

After failing at ousting Maduro in 2019, claiming to have "tried everything," Guaido's popularity fell to 38.9 percent in December after reaching a peak of 63 percent, pollsters Datanalisis say.