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An unnamed Norwegian source with inside knowledge of the talks between the Venezuelan opposition and government in Oslo said the opposition “needs to be more realistic.” We discuss the talks with Norwegian Venezuela specialist Eirik Vold

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GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Venezuelan opposition representatives and representatives from the government of Venezuela met for the first time in face-to-face talks in Oslo, Norway this week. Apparently, no progress has been made yet, but this was not to be expected after a first meeting like this. Both sides agreed to continue, but no date for a new meeting has been set. The two sides are entering the talks with diametrically opposed positions. The government of President Nicolas Maduro is proposing to hold early legislative elections, which would normally take place in late 2020. Opposition leader and self-declared interim President Juan Guaido is saying that a precondition for any agreement is for President Nicolas Maduro to step down from the presidency. Joining me now from Oslo to discuss the Venezuelan talks in Norway, is Eirik Vold. Eirik works as a Foreign Policy Adviser for Norway’s Red Party. Also, he’s the author of the book, Hugo Chavez: The Bolivarian Revolution from Up Close. Thanks for joining us today, Eirik.

EIRIK VOLD It’s a pleasure.

GREG WILPERT So, an article that was published in The Miami Herald the other day, quoted an unnamed Norwegian official who was involved in the facilitation efforts. According to the article, the official said, “The opposition’s negotiation mandate is very narrow— Maduro resigns, or nothing. If they only want to negotiate the conditions of Maduro’s surrender, then of course there won’t be an agreement. Their position has to be more realistic.” Now, indeed such a beginning position does not seem to bode well. How do you see the chances for success, based on your knowledge of both Venezuela and Norway’s experience with peace negotiations?

EIRIK VOLD Well, definitely it’s a difficult task to reconcile those positions. Of course, in the initial phase of a peace negotiation process like this, dialogue like this, they are definitely positions that might seem irreconcilable, but then they will slowly move closer and closer to each other, and in the end, they’ll end up close enough for a deal to be made. It’s definitely a difficult task because Guaido’s whole project, his whole leadership, is based on his promise of a quick fix— Maduro is going to be toppled, and then we’ll have democracy, and it’s going to happen very soon, and that’s what his support is based upon, so the time is essential for him. Now for the rest of the opposition, I think these claims might not be seen as ideal either. I think what the Norwegian negotiators see is that there is a potential for conciliation in the sense that the government can give something. For example, the vote of the majority who voted for the opposition parties for the elections for the National Assembly, that vote must be respected in the sense that the National Assembly’s authority will be restored, more opposition politicians who are jailed must be freed and be allowed to participate in the elections.

Whereas, the government would say that the sanctions are a crucial factor— they would say that there is no way that we can have truly democratic elections— no election would be democratic when sanctions are being imposed, destroying the livelihood of the majority, of millions of Venezuelans every day. And so, I think in between here, there is a possibility for a deal, but it seems pretty far away and it’s pretty telling that Norway sends this message to the opposition through The Miami Herald. I mean, I think I know a little bit about how the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs does the job, and they are not amateurs. They— this leak is not an accident. It’s probably a very controlled—It’s a message that’s being sent maybe not just to the opposition hardliners, but also to the US. I mean, the US is who gives the opposition leverage through sanctions. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a message directed both to Washington and Miami and to the hardliners in Caracas from the Norwegian government.

GREG WILPERT I think that’s a very interesting point. Now, why is Norway facilitating these talks on Venezuela? Tell us a little bit about Norway’s history with peace negotiations.

EIRIK VOLD Well, as for the Venezuelan case, one can only guess, but I would say it might have something to do with Norway’s role as a peace facilitator in the Colombian peace process that started in 2012. I was there covering it when it was inaugurated, when the government of conservative Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerilla met in Hurdal outside Oslo and Norway played a crucial part there. Even though that peace process has met some severe difficulties lately because of the unwillingness of the current Duque government, Colombian government, to abide by the deal. Norway’s role is generally considered a success both by the guerrillas and by the then government and by Caracas.

Related to this is the second point and that is that in the Colombian peace process, the Norwegian facilitators worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Venezuelan facilitators. The Venezuelan role in the Colombian peace process has been heavily downplayed by the international media for obvious political reasons. But, nevertheless, the fact remains that even Juan Manuel Santos, who is a conservative pro-Washington free-market ideologue, recognized that Chavez’s role was crucial for the Colombian peace process. And so, there might have been some personal relationships of trust that could have been developed during those negotiations between the representatives of the Venezuelan government and the Norwegian facilitators. And that might have been, that might be one of the causes why the Venezuelan government trusts Norway as a facilitator in spite of the fact that Norway is a close ally to Washington, a NATO member, and is currently governed by a conservative government.

GREG WILPERT Now, President Maduro has said that secret meetings to prepare the ground for these talks took place already back in February. What can you tell us about how these talks developed and why now?

EIRIK VOLD Well, one can only speculate again. This was also the case in the Colombian peace process that secret meetings took place before it was official. I think that maybe the reason why the Norwegian government came out and confirmed the rumors, was that this process was going on and its role in it, was that it was both parties, the opposition and the Venezuelan government, were leaking about this. So, they thought we might as well come clean and say officially that yes, we’re taking part in this. Second, maybe another important fact was that the attempted regime change operation, Operation Freedom or Liberty, on the 30th of April failed and it left Guaido and his group with little options. They were somehow forced a little bit to start negotiating because the prospect of a quick regime change, as he had promised, were starting to look, it was looking bleak and the same goes for Washington.

The US has been meddling in Venezuela since 1999 when Chavez took office, but the difference, and it’s been a destructive role mostly, but the difference from previous meddling and the current one is that while whereas before it used to be covert action— secretly supporting NGOs, secretly supporting the people behind the failed military coup in 2002, etc., secretly trying to isolate Venezuela on the international stage— now, the role is overt. Donald Trump has been talking about war, quick regime change. His government has even threatened the military high command and Maduro himself, to send them to the torture camps in Guantanamo unless they step down and accept the president appointed by the US. So now, the fact is that the US’s credibility is on the line. So, if Guaido fails to be the vehicle of this regime change, and if there’s no willingness to actually go to war against Venezuela for regime change, then the US will need to have, someone needs to provide them with a way to backtrack without losing too much face, and that is one of the challenges that this Norwegian-led effort is facing currently.

GREG WILPERT Okay. Well, we’re going to definitely continue to follow these negotiations very closely and we’ll probably have you on again to talk about it some more, but we’ll leave it there for now. I was speaking to Eirik Vold, Foreign Policy Adviser for Norway’s Red Party. Thanks again, Eirik, for having joined us today.

EIRIK VOLD It’s a pleasure.

GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.