Maduro left Norwegian mediators in the dark about side deal: Venezuela opposition negotiator

By Corina Pons and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not inform Norway's foreign ministry, which is mediating a dialogue between his government and opposition leader Juan Guaido, about a side deal with a smaller sector of the opposition before it was announced earlier this week, a member of Guaido's negotiating team said on Wednesday.

Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, over the weekend declared the Oslo-backed talks dead more than six weeks after Maduro walked away in protest over U.S. sanctions. The opposition said the government had no interest in discussing their main priority: a new election.

The government responded on Monday by announcing a deal with smaller opposition parties to resolve the South American country's deep political divide by reforming the National Electoral Commission, accused of bias in favor of the ruling socialists. That deal was not backed by Guaido's allies.

"The Norwegians had no idea what was happening," Gerardo Blyde, one of Guaido's representatives to the talks, said in an interview. "There is bad faith on Maduro's part. He was playing on two fields. When it became difficult for him he secretly created another option."

Neither Venezuela's Information Ministry nor Norway's Foreign Ministry immediately responded to requests for comment.

Venezuela's political crisis deepened in January when Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency, arguing Maduro's May 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has since been recognized as the rightful leader by more than 50 countries, including the United States.

The Norway-backed talks began in May, and mostly took place on the Caribbean island of Barbados. Blyde said the opposition offered to create a transitional government consisting of representatives of the opposition, Maduro's allies and the military, which would convene elections within nine months.

Under the proposal, both Maduro and Guaido would have stepped down once elections were called, and the opposition would have requested that the United States, European Union and Canada lift sanctions, Blyde said.

He added that he did not expect the new deal between the government and the smaller parties to help Venezuela emerge from its economic and political crises, since most Western countries continued to recognize Guaido. He said continued international pressure would eventually force Maduro back to the table.

The talks "will return but in worse conditions for Venezuelans," Blyde said. "It was immensely irresponsible for Maduro to have left the table."

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by David Gregorio)

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