US, EU, Latin Americans meet to encourage Venezuela elections

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro, center, speaks to international delegates during a conference focused on Venezuela's political crisis, in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

BOGOTA – A summit meant to reinvigorate talks between the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro and opposition political parties, attended by representatives from 19 countries and the European Union, produced no concrete results on Tuesday, though a further meeting was planned.

The meeting in Bogota, hosted by Colombian President Gustavo Petro with support from the United States, included Spain, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Brazil and others.

The meeting was meant to help Maduro and the opposition restart stalled talks in Mexico focused on free elections and the possible lifting of sanctions against the government

Some attendees "will inform President Nicolas Maduro, the opposition political parties and civil society of the results for their evaluation and comments," Colombian Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva said after the meeting, adding another summit will be held to continue work.

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Attendees found common ground over the need for free elections and lifting of sanctions parallel to agreements between the two sides, he said.

Petro met over the weekend with representatives from the Unitary Platform alliance, which represents some of Venezuela's opposition. Neither the opposition nor the government participated directly in the summit.

The Mexico talks, held briefly last year and in 2021, are supposed to provide a roadmap out of the long-running crisis.

The Biden administration has no desire to maintain sanctions into perpetuity, deputy national security advisor Jon Finer told journalists, reiterating it would take concrete steps toward elections for them to be lifted.

"It is about taking real, measurable, concrete steps in the direction of democracy," he said.

The opposition contends that ruling party control of the electoral authority impedes transparent elections.

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The government and the opposition last year signed a deal to create a U.N.-administrated humanitarian fund with frozen assets held in the international financial system.

But slow establishment of the fund and other delays caused by a change in opposition leadership have created impatience towards U.S. bureaucracy among the opposition and Maduro.

Venezuela's government reiterated the need for "unilateral, illegal and damaging" sanctions to be lifted in a statement published via Twitter by Foreign Minister Yvan Gil.

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Venezuela's return to talks will follow the creation of the U.N.-administered fund, as well as the release of Maduro ally Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman who is in U.S. custody, the statement added.

Former opposition leader Juan Guaido flew to Miami overnight after Colombia opened a process against him for irregular migration.