Amid rumors and confusion about the status of talks aimed at ending Venezuela’s grinding political crisis, the government of Norway on Thursday said that negotiations in Barbados are ongoing and cautioned the parties from muddying the waters.
“We announce that the representatives of the main political actors in Venezuela are continuing the negotiations that were initiated in Oslo,” Norway’s foreign ministry said in a press release. “We emphasize the importance of the parties showing utmost caution in their comments and statements about the process.”
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó — who is considered the country’s legitimate president by Washington and more than 50 other nations — has not addressed the issue, but one of his representatives at the talks, congressman Stalin González, said the delegation was “in consultations to end the suffering of Venezuelans.”
Talks began in Barbados on Monday, under the auspices of the Norwegian government, with hopes that the Nicolás Maduro regime and Guaidó’s representatives can find a a way out of the political crisis that has both men claiming to be the country’s rightful leader.
While negotiators have been tight-lipped, there are persistent rumors that one of the ideas being floated is new elections early next year, in which Maduro — who has been in power since 2013 — would not be a candidate.
Diosdado Cabello, a close Maduro ally and the head of the National Constitutional Assembly, however, said new elections weren’t negotiable
“We won’t have presidential elections,” he said Wednesday, according to El Nacional newspaper. “The only president here is Nicolás Maduro Moros who is just six months into his new term.”
Guaidó, 35, rose to prominence on Jan. 23 when he announced that it was his constitutional duty, as head of congress, to assume the presidency, arguing that Maduro had clung to power through fraud. Despite having broad international support he has little real power in the country.
Maduro, 57, says elections in May, 2018, give him the right to rule through 2025 and that Guaidó is trying to illegally seize power with Washington’s backing.
The talks are occurring as Washington continues to try to drive wedges within Maduro’s party. On Thursday, the U.S. Secretary of Treasury sanctioned Venezuela’s Military Counterintelligence Agency (DGCIM) after it was accused of torturing a Venezuelan naval officer to death early this month.
“The politically motivated arrest and tragic death of Captain Rafael Acosta was unwarranted and unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “Treasury is committed to ending the former Maduro regime’s inhumane treatment of political opponents, innocent civilians, and members of the military in an effort to suppress dissent.”
The ongoing political crisis is exacerbating an economic collapse featuring hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages. The United Nations says more than 5 million people have fled the country in recent years, the hemisphere’s largest migratory crisis.