Under pressure from growing street protests and threats of U.S. sanctions, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has offered the opposition, in secret negotiations, a 45-day delay of Sunday’s election for a Constitutional Assembly and a proposal to hold presidential elections by the end of next year.
Maduro’s offer requires the legislative National Assembly, controlled by the opposition, to recall the 33 new judges it appointed last week as well as a “cooling down” of the street protests against the government, according to sources familiar with the talks.
Confirmation that the talks were taking place came late Monday night by a message on Twitter by the vice president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Freddy Guevara, who reported that the former prime minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, brought the proposal to the residence of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest.
Previously, local media had picked up a story run by Chilean newspaper La Tercera with comments from Rodriguez Zapatero confirming the talks. The former prime minister later denied he talked to the publication, but he did not deny that the meeting with opposition leaders took place.
“As always, Leopoldo asked me to report clearly and directly concerning the meeting that took place in his house and the invocation of a general strike and the ‘Take Over of Caracas,’ ” Guevara said on Twitter.
According to a source in Washington close to the opposition leaders, Maduro is asking the opposition to help him lobby the U.S. government to abstain from slapping new sanctions on the Venezuelan government.
In exchange, Maduro is offering to delay for 45 days the Constitutional Assembly election set for Sunday and to give opposition leaders a chance to participate, said the same source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The opposition, however, told Rodríguez Zapatero that it remains firm in its demand to cancel outright the Constitutional Assembly vote, according to Guevara’s tweets. More than 7 million Venezuelans voted against the assembly election in a July 16 plebiscite.
The 45-day delay offer was also confirmed by an opposition leader who also asked not to be named.
The source also said that Maduro was also dangling another offer before his adversaries: a proposal to hold presidential elections by the end of next year.
The balloting for the Constitutional Assembly is scheduled for Sunday, using a system that guarantees the government will control the body even though the Maduro government’s popularity now stands at about 10 percent.
The street protests have become a critical stumbling block for Maduro and he has decided to search for some sort of arrangement that would allow him to put off the vote, said Martín Rodil, president of the Venezuelan American Leadership Council.
“The government fell into its own trap. It proposed the Constitutional Assembly with the intention of trapping the opposition, and it wound up falling into its own trap because the opposition is obeying the will of the street and refused to participate,” said Rodil.
“At the end of the day, they found themselves in an untenable position because it’s causing cracks within the armed forces and because they may soon be hit with [U.S.] sanctions,” he added.