Various mediation efforts have failed in recent years as foes accuse President Nicolas Maduro of exploiting dialogue to buy time, while he says the opposition prefers violence.

A general view shows members of Venezuela's government during a meeting with opposition coalition in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic December 1, 2017.
A general view shows members of Venezuela's government during a meeting with opposition coalition in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic December 1, 2017. (Reuters)

Members of Venezuela's leftist government and opposition coalition began a new round of talks in the Dominican Republic on Friday aimed at resolving the OPEC nation's long-running and often bloody political standoff.

Various mediation efforts have failed in recent years: foes accuse President Nicolas Maduro of exploiting dialogue to buy time, while he says the opposition prefers violence.

Few Venezuelans expect a breakthrough this time, with opponents demoralised at seeing Maduro consolidate power and position himself for possible re-election in 2018.

The Democratic Unity coalition, which failed to dislodge Maduro in months of street protests this year that led to about 125 deaths, is pressing primarily for a guarantee of free and fair voting next year.

Venezuelan opposition activists attempt to defilade behind a wall from a National Guard riot policeman shooting rubber bullets at them during clashes in Caracas on May 31, 2017
Venezuelan opposition activists attempt to defilade behind a wall from a National Guard riot policeman shooting rubber bullets at them during clashes in Caracas on May 31, 2017 (AFP)

It also wants a foreign humanitarian aid corridor to alleviate one of the worst economic crises in modern history, as well as freedom for several hundred jailed activists, and respect for the opposition-led congress.

"We've come to seek solutions to Venezuela's problems: food, medicines, free elections, and the need to restore democracy," lead opposition negotiator Julio Borges said. 

"It's a difficult path."

Julio Borges, center, President of Venezuela's National Assembly smiles during a news conference prior the start of a session of Congress in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Borges spoke about the voting technology company Smartmatic, after its CEO said that results of Venezuela's election for an all-powerful constituent assembly were off by at least 1 million votes.
Julio Borges, center, President of Venezuela's National Assembly smiles during a news conference prior the start of a session of Congress in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Borges spoke about the voting technology company Smartmatic, after its CEO said that results of Venezuela's election for an all-powerful constituent assembly were off by at least 1 million votes. (AP)

The opposition's bargaining power has been weakened by a surprising defeat in October gubernatorial elections. Furthermore, the multi-party group is divided, with more militant sectors opposing the talks.

"The dialogue they are planning to start is a parody ... an instrument for the regime to gain time and keep itself in power," said Antonio Ledezma, an opposition leader who escaped house arrest this month to seek asylum abroad.

Venezuelan opposition leader and former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma (L) adresses the press in Washington on November 28, 2017.
Venezuelan opposition leader and former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma (L) adresses the press in Washington on November 28, 2017. (AFP)

US factor

Maduro has instructed negotiators to focus on opposition to US sanctions against his government. He was strengthened by the October vote and anticipates another win in mayoral elections set for December, which the opposition is mainly boycotting.

President Donald Trump has slapped individual sanctions on a raft of officials for alleged rights abuses, corruption and drugs crimes, as well as economic measures intended to stop the Venezuelan government issuing new debt.

Maduro wants any potential deal with the opposition to include joint pressure on Washington to back off. He has blamed the US measures for Venezuela's economic problems, which in fact began several years ago amid failed statist policies and a plunge in global oil prices.

"We came to demand the immediate end of the economic aggressions against Venezuela," said chief government negotiator and Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez.

The president of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly Delcy Rodriguez, the mayor of Libertador municipality in Caracas and leader of the pro-government United Socialist Party of Venezuela Jorge Rodriguez and Venezuelan Education Minister Elias Jaua pose at the Dominican Foreign Ministry in Santo Domingo before meeting with representatives of the Venezuelan opposition to resume negotiated talks, on December 1, 2017.
The president of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly Delcy Rodriguez, the mayor of Libertador municipality in Caracas and leader of the pro-government United Socialist Party of Venezuela Jorge Rodriguez and Venezuelan Education Minister Elias Jaua pose at the Dominican Foreign Ministry in Santo Domingo before meeting with representatives of the Venezuelan opposition to resume negotiated talks, on December 1, 2017. (AFP)

There is no indication, however, that Trump would be prepared to ease pressure on Maduro, whom he has called "a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator."

On the contrary, US officials say Washington could strengthen sanctions unless Maduro enacts democratic changes.

The government also wants recognition for Venezuela's Constituent Assembly, an entirely pro-Maduro superbody elected in July despite an opposition boycott and widespread international condemnation.

In this July 30, 2017 file photo, released by the Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro shows his ballot after casting a vote for a constitutional assembly in Caracas, Venezuela.
In this July 30, 2017 file photo, released by the Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro shows his ballot after casting a vote for a constitutional assembly in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP)

With an eye to its push to refinance more than $120 billion in foreign debt, Maduro would like the opposition-led congress to agree to approve any negotiations with bondholders, a potential loophole to get round the US sanctions.

Foreign ministers from Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua and host Dominican Republic were acting as guarantors at the talks over two days at the Foreign Ministry building in Santo Domingo.

"Major near-term breakthroughs remain unlikely given the complexity of issues on the table and the distance between each side's preferences," said Eurasia group consultancy.

Source: Reuters