By Alexandra Ulmer and Andreina Aponte
CARACAS (Reuters) – Mediation talks between Venezuela’s government and an opposition coalition collapsed because they failed to agree on conditions for a presidential election, the host of the meetings, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, said on Wednesday.
Venezuela’s ruling socialists have said a vote will be held before the end of April, with President Nicolas Maduro running for re-election in the oil-rich nation despite his unpopularity and a crushing economic crisis.
The sides had compromised on holding the vote on April 22, Medina said, before talks broke down and the government delegation left the Caribbean island on Tuesday night. The government’s critics fear that authorities would quickly set a date for an election in which Maduro’s two top political rivals are barred from running.
The opposition coalition had been lobbying for a June 10 election, Medina said, to give its disparate parties time to hold primaries. The government, meanwhile, pushed for the vote to be as soon as March 8.
“Talks have entered a sort of indefinite recess … No conflict in the world has been resolved without dialogue,” Medina said.
Opponents say the government is rigging the vote in advance by barring Maduro’s strongest rivals – opposition politicians Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles – and failing to reform a compliant election board.
Opposition delegation leader Julio Borges blamed the government for intransigence in denying fair conditions and warned Maduro from “unilaterally” setting a snap election.
“Nicolas Maduro does not own democracy in Venezuela,” Borges said from Santo Domingo.
The government says it is fighting a U.S.-led conspiracy determined to end socialism in Latin America, hobble Venezuela’s economy, and steal its oil wealth.
Maduro insinuated later on Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is a on tour of Latin America in part to discuss potential further sanctions on Venezuela, was to blame for the aborted talks.
“Julio Borges yesterday received a call from Bogota and they spoke to him in English, at 4 p.m. Santo Domingo time. And he met with the opposition delegation, which was ready to sign the deal, and he told them ‘we cannot sign, we will not sign’,” said Maduro during a speech, before dancing and embracing supporters.
Venezuela’s opposition, which staged massive protests last year in an attempt to force early elections, is in a quandary.
Some activists believe it is foolish to participate in what they consider a sham election. Others feel they have to keep up pressure by voting and for some emigration is the preferred option.
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Andreina Aponte; additional reporting by Vivian Sequera; writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Grant McCool)