France says Venezuela talks to take place, warns of sanctions

PARIS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s government and opposition will hold a round of talks in the Dominican Republic today, France’s foreign minister said yesterday, warning Caracas’s leadership that it risked EU sanctions if it failed to engage in negotiations.

Venezuela has been convulsed by demonstrations against leftist President Nicolas Maduro accused by critics of knocking the oil-rich country into its worst-ever economic crisis and bringing it to the brink of dictatorship.

“I was happy to learn that dialogue with the opposition would restart tomorrow in the Dominican Republic,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement after meeting his Venezuelan opposite number, Jorge Arreaza Montserrat in Paris.

He said the meeting would be under the auspices of Dominican President Danilo Medina and former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Maduro routinely calls for dialogue with the opposition, but his adversaries see dialogue as a stalling mechanism that burnishes the government’s image without producing concrete results.

A dialogue process backed by the Vatican in 2016 did little to advance opposition demands, which include release of political prisoners and respect for the opposition-run congress.

Many Maduro critics believe opposition leaders were duped in that dialogue process, and have grown suspicious of former Zapatero as an intermediary.

“This (dialogue) is good news and I hope that it will rapidly lead to concrete steps on the ground.” Le Drian said.

Like fellow-EU member Spain a few days earlier, Le Drian also warned that if the situation continued there would be consequences.

“I told him that France was deeply worried by the political, economic and humanitarian situation in Venezuela,” he said.

“I reminded him of the risk of European sanctions and the need to rapidly see evidence from Venezuela that it is ready to relaunch negotiations with the opposition and engage in a sincere and credible process.”

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