A meeting between the Venezuelan government and the opposition to resolve the country’s deep political crisis ended without agreement on Wednesday, the opposition said, although negotiators left the door open to further talks.
Representatives of the government of Nicolás Maduro met envoys sent by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to Oslo. Unlike a meeting held in Norway’s capital earlier this month, the two sides met face to face.
“This meeting ended without agreement,” Mr Guaidó’s team said in a statement afterwards. “We thank the government of Norway for its willingness to contribute to a solution to the chaos that our country is suffering.”
The Maduro government did not comment on the outcome of the talks. The Norwegians said earlier in the day that both sides had shown willingness to reach a deal.
Mr Maduro and Mr Guaidó have been locked in a power struggle since the start of the year, when the opposition leader declared himself Venezuela’s interim president, arguing that Mr Maduro had usurped power on the basis of bogus elections.
Neither side has scored a decisive victory, and their struggle has largely ground to a halt. Mr Maduro controls most state institutions and has the support of the armed forces, while Mr Guaidó enjoys the backing of the US and most countries in Europe and Latin America.
The stalemate has forced both sides to negotiate. The talks in Oslo were the clearest sign yet that there could be a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Separately, the EU and some Latin American countries have set up an international contact group to look for ways out of the impasse. The Group of Lima — which includes most major countries in the region — has also put pressure on Mr Maduro to stand down.
Mr Guaidó’s team said it was willing to work further with the Norwegians, “just as we have been doing with the Group of Lima and the contact group”.
On Tuesday Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, appointed Enrique Iglesias, a Spanish-Uruguayan economist and former president of the Inter-American Development Bank, as its special adviser for Venezuela. Mr Iglesias, 89, is also a former Uruguayan foreign minister.
The diplomatic push comes amid deep economic, political and social turmoil in Venezuela. In six years of Mr Maduro’s rule, the economy has halved in size, hyperinflation has taken hold and some 3.5m people have fled, escaping shortages of food and medicine.
Scores of people have been killed in anti-government protests. The opposition accuses Mr Maduro of cynically using previous peace talks to gain time and cling to power.
Asked whether Mr Maduro was simply stalling in Norway, one EU diplomatic source said: “That’s a fair question . . . Up until now he hasn’t made any concrete gestures which prove he is willing to change his behaviour and have a serious process which offers the prospect of democracy.
“Therefore, pressure needs to be part of the strategy . . . The status quo is not an option.”
While welcoming the Norwegian initiative, the US sounded a sceptical note last week, saying that “the only thing to negotiate with Nicolás Maduro is the conditions of his departure”.
“Venezuela is shaping up to be a long attritional battle,” said Nicholas Watson, managing director for Latin America at Teneo, an advisory group. “The military is essential to Maduro’s survival but their exit costs are very high at present, and the opposition is not making a compelling enough case to them.”