CARACAS, , (Pakistan Point News - APP - 11th Nov, 2016 ) - Venezuela's political rivals prepared to sit down at the negotiating table Friday to resume fraught Vatican-backed talks on the country's volatile crisis. The day could determine whether the sides maintain their fragile dialogue or whether antagonism and instability resurge in a country stricken by food shortages. Mass street protests erupted after authorities last month blocked the opposition's bid to hold a referendum on removing Socialist President Nicolas Maduro from office.
The sides declared a "truce" at a first meeting 11 days ago and agreed to resume talks on Friday. The outlook appears combative. Opposition MUD coalition leader Jesus Torrealba warned his side would seek early elections if Maduro keeps refusing a referendum, as he has vowed. "The MUD is seeking an electoral solution to this crisis through the negotiating table," Torrealba said. "Venezuela is a pressure cooker. The recall vote was an escape valve, and the government sealed it up.
" - Economic crisis - =================== Under the truce, the opposition suspended protests and its moves to hold a political trial against Maduro. But the sides continued exchanging insults and refused to back down from their clashing demands. Under constitutional rules, the opposition must secure a referendum before January 10 if it wants to remove Maduro. Otherwise he or his allies will keep power until 2019. Venezuela is rich in oil but short of food.
An economic crisis sparked by falling crude prices has led to shortages of basic supplies and soaring inflation. The opposition blames Maduro's economic management. He calls the crisis a capitalist conspiracy. "I am not obsessed with being a presidential candidate nor with being reelected," Maduro said on Thursday. "Fixing the economy is my obsession." - Risk of unrest - ================== Analysts say there is a risk of violent unrest.
Clashes at anti-government riots in 2014 left 43 people dead. Maduro has a high disapproval rating, according to recent opinion polls. "The likelihood that the government in negotiations will accept a referendum or early elections is practically zero," said analyst Luis Vicente Leon. "Maduro is absolutely certain that would mean handing them his head." But the president appears to have his hands on the levers of power. He has the public backing of the military high command and control of most state institutions.
The Supreme Court on Friday issued the latest in a series of rulings in Maduro's favor in the dispute. It rejected an appeal against it decision to annul the referendum process. - Trump factor - ================ Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election meanwhile adds tension and uncertainty to the situation, analysts say. Venezuela's foreign ministry said Maduro had told US Secretary of State John Kerry on the phone that he hoped for "positive work" with Trump.
But Maduro has had testy relations even with the more moderate current US leader Barack Obama. Maduro accuses Washington of plotting his overthrow. Obama's administration had nevertheless boosted contact with Venezuelan authorities in a bid to ease the crisis. But Obama only has two months left in office. "Trump's aggressive and threatening discourse will be the perfect excuse to strengthen the theory about Venezuela's external enemies," Leon said.
- Patience - ============ The government scheduled a news conference at 2200 GMT on Friday. Mediators at the talks include Vatican envoy Claudio Maria Celli and Spain's former prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "We are just beginning. We must be very patient," Zapatero told reporters in Caracas. "We need a spirit of respect and coexistence. Dialogue is not only a means for reaching agreement -- it is an end in itself."