Nicolas Maduro Holds on to Power, Calls for a Peace Conference

Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds on to power while he calls for a national “peace conference”. In an effort to pacify the growing demonstrations against his government, Maduro invited opposition, business, student and church leaders to a dialogue in the presidential palace on Wednesday. The participants of the peace conference will also sign an agreement condemning the violence. The two-week old demonstration has already killed 14 people and injured many.

Maduro claims that the government is gaining support from the majority of the people of Venezuela. He said that the street protesters “are a violent minority. The vast majority of Venezuelans including many opponents of the revolution want peace.”

However, Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader and a two-time presidential candidate, said he is still thinking if he will go to the meeting. “How do I go amid the repression, amid the violation of human rights…The presidential palace is not the place for dialogue in the country,” added Capriles, who is also the current Miranda state governor.

The protesters took to the streets starting February 12, complaining of inflation, rising crime incidents and the shortages of basic goods like milk and flour. They want Maduro to quit over these national issues aside from allegations of suppressing the demonstrations violently. In all these demonstrations happening in the capital Caracas, the protesters have been confronted by armed pro-government groups and by the members of the National Guard.

Meanwhile, Washington on Tuesday in a diplomatic reprisal declared three Venezuelan diplomats (two first secretaries and a second secretary) persona non grata and ordered them to leave the US. In a US State Department statement, the three Venezuelan diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the country. This came after Caracas expelled three American embassy staff last February 17 and accused them of instigating the current unrest in Venezuela and recruiting students against Pres. Nicolas Maduro.

Aside from the confirmed deaths, around 500 protesters were already arrested and 150 were injured in the two-week protest. These events and the violence it has spawned attracted global media attention and coverage. However, Pres. Nicolas Maduro accused the international media of conniving with “imperialists” to paint an image of Venezuela as being chaotic and repressive.

Diego Maradona, the Argentine football legend supported the claim by Pres. Nicolas Maduro. “We’re seeing all the lies that the imperialists are saying and inventing. I’m prepared to be a soldier for Venezuela in whatever is required.” added Maradona. His remarks were expressed while signing to become a commentator for Caracas-based Telesur TV network and in preparation for the coming World Cup to be held in Brazil.

These demonstrations are considered the biggest threat to Maduro’s 10-month old leadership as president. Venezuela is Latin America’s largest crude oil producer and owns the world’s largest petroleum reserves. According to Bloomberg data, the U.S. is the biggest buyer of Venezuela’s crude oil as well as Venezuela’s biggest trading partner.

In a statement ahead of the peace conference, Maduro said the opposition “has no political will to contribute to peace in the country. Fascists, prepare for another loss and the people, prepare for another victory.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro continues to hold on to power and defy the demonstrators’ demand for him to step down. In the same vein, he calls for a national “peace conference” to end the violence in Caracas.

By Roberto I. Belda