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Venezuela government, opposition talking despite stalled Norway-backed dialogue: sources

Venezuela government, opposition talking despite stalled Norway-backed dialogue: sources
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By Corina Pons and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – A group of Venezuelan government officials and opposition activists are quietly holding talks focused on the economy despite the stalling of a formal dialogue mediated by Norway, according to nine sources involved.

The talks involve Socialist Party officials who are seeking an end to U.S. sanctions and strategies to weather them, and opposition leaders who insist that economic recovery is contingent on President Nicolas Maduro leaving office.

The ongoing meetings, sometimes in a hotel and reaching once-a-week in August, show Maduro continues seeking contact with the opposition even as the Norway-backed dialogue remains frozen and Venezuela’s economy continues to unravel.

The informal, Caracas-based talks are carried out through the Boston Group, a forum created in the early 2000s by U.S. congressmen seeking to stimulate dialogue between Venezuelan legislators of opposing political persuasions.

The talks began in June and have grown in frequency and attendance since Maduro’s government in August walked away from the formal Norway talks, according to the sources.

Opposition-linked participants describe the venue as a way of maintaining discrete contact with Socialist Party members, which is often difficult given that the two sides refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the other.

“It helps us know what they’re up to,” said one opposition participant, who like seven others contacted by Reuters asked not to be identified.

A participant linked to the Socialist Party said he and others were pushing for a discussion of sanctions, due to their impact on the country.

Pedro Diaz, a lawyer and former legislator who coordinates the Boston Group, said he could not discuss the matter.

His website, which describes itself as the website of the Boston Group, includes links to documents that appear to be meeting notes of discussions on economy and oil. The site does not allow the documents to be downloaded.

The Information Ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.

The two sides in May opened dialogue mediated by Norway, but talks stalled after the Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions.

One opposition official said the government may be using the Boston Group talks to divide the opposition.

“The government uses this to sustain the idea that there isn’t a single opposition but rather several oppositions,” said the official. “Then it decides which one it wants to talk to.”

(Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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