/ 30 January 2019

Maduro ready for talks with opposition, early parliamentary polls

President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro has been in charge since 2013 but his re-election in May was branded illegitimate by the European Union, United States and the Organisation of American States. (Reuters)

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said he was prepared to hold negotiations with the US-backed opposition and added he would support early parliamentary elections, RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday.

“I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela,” Maduro told the Russian state news agency in an interview in Caracas.

Maduro also said Russian President Vladimir Putin had promised him more economic and military support during phone talks last week.

“Most modern arms supplies will be arriving in Venezuela,” the Venezuelan leader said, adding such supplies were arriving “every month.”

“There is cooperation every month. This is normal, nothing extraordinary about this,” he added.

Venezuela is a rare Moscow ally in Latin America.

The two countries have a long history of ties and Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, known for his tirades against the United States, was a welcome guest at the Kremlin.

Last week the oil-rich but economically devastated Latin American country was plunged into uncertainty when the US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself “acting president”.

The United States, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada have recognised Guaidó as interim president, while China and Russia — Venezuela’s two main creditors — have urged non-interference.

In the interview with RIA Novosti, Maduro said he would support early parliamentary elections.

“It would be very good to conduct parliamentary elections at an earlier stage, it would be a good form of political discussion,” Maduro said.

At the same time he dismissed the possibility of holding a new presidential poll any time soon.

“Presidential elections in Venezuela have taken place, and if imperialists want new elections let them wait until 2025,” he said in an apparent reference to Washington.

Maduro has been in charge since 2013 but his re-election in May was branded illegitimate by the European Union, United States and the Organisation of American States.

‘Protection from God’

The embattled leader also implied he was firmly in charge of the army whose support is crucial.

“I am carrying out my duties as commander-in-chief according to the Constitution consolidating the national Bolivarian armed forces,” he said. “And the Bolivarian armed forces are demonstrating a lesson in ethics, loyalty and discipline.”

Maduro also claimed that US President Donald Trump had ordered the government of Colombia to assassinate him.

“If something happens to me one day then Donald Trump and Colombian President Ivan Duque will be responsible for everything that is happening to me,” he said, adding however that he was in good hands.

“At the same time, I am protected. We have a good system of defence in place and moreover, we have more significant protection — this is protection from God who will give me a long life,” Maduro added.

He declined to comment on media reports that Russian private contractors had arrived in Venezuela to protect him.

Russia has denounced the opposition’s “usurpation of power”, calling Maduro the crisis-hit country’s legitimate leader.

Venezuela owes China and Russia billions of dollars and Maduro vowed to honour the debt.

He also expressed hope that the two countries would continue to support Venezuela economically and invited US companies to invest in energy and other sectors.

© Agence France-Presse