President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela’s opposition leaders are to meet Thursday for talks aimed at ending two months of deadly anti-government protests. The agreed to dialogue would be unprecedented under Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez last year following the long-standing leader’s death from cancer.
Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the presidency to Maduro last year, has also confirmed he would attend the talks.
“I say to our people: I will go tomorrow to defend the truth,” said Capriles, who is the governor of the state of Miranda and a member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition or MUD.
“We will tell the government the truth so the country opens its eyes, so that we understand that all this has to change,” he said.
Since early February, 39 people have died and 600 have been wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper, which they blame on Maduro’s socialist government.
At least three opposition leaders have been jailed in recent weeks over the protests.
After preliminary negotiations on Tuesday, the two sides had agreed to the talks under the oversight of UNASUR, a regional South American grouping, and the Vatican.
Among the conditions set by the two sides for the talks was the presence of witnesses, including the Vatican’s secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s former envoy to Venezuela.
“We want to convey the invitation of President Nicolas Maduro to His Holiness, Pope Francis,” for Parolin to act “as a good faith witness,” Venezuela’s foreign minister said in a letter sent Wednesday.
The Vatican has yet to publicly respond to the request, though it has previously indicated it was willing to mediate in the crisis.
However, it remains to be seen whether the government and the opposition will be able to negotiate their way to a solution.