© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with Chile’s Ambassador to Venezuela Jaime Gazmuri, at Miraflores Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2023. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo
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By Marianna Parraga, Diego Oré and Mayela Armas
HOUSTON/MEXICO CITY/CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s government is set to approve a return to Mexico-based negotiations with the country’s political opposition, almost a year after the last meeting, six sources with knowledge of the matter said in recent days.
The talks between President Nicolas Maduro’s government and the opposition are meant to find solutions to Venezuela’s long-running political and economic crisis. They come at a time when the U.S. is increasing pressure for progress towards a free and fair presidential election.
The opposition will repeat its long-standing petition for release of political prisoners and guarantees for an election slated for 2024, two sources close to preparations for the talks said.
Envoys from Caracas and Washington have met several times in Doha since last year in separate conversations, according to other sources with knowledge of those talks, but Venezuela’s opposition did not directly participate.
The U.S. State Department and Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Topics on the agenda in Qatar included the possibility of relief from U.S. oil sanctions – via authorizations that would allow foreign energy firms to take Venezuelan crude for debt repayment – and possible efforts to deal with the influx of Venezuelan migrants to the United States, the sources said.
Reuters could not immediately verify whether further sanctions-easing by the U.S. could directly follow a return to the Mexico negotiations.
“Should Venezuela take concrete actions toward restoring democracy, leading to free and fair elections, we are prepared to provide corresponding sanctions relief,” a White House spokesperson said last week. “At this time, Venezuela has not taken the necessary steps, and our sanctions remain in effect.”
One source said the Venezuelan government had broadly discussed electoral issues at the Qatar talks, but had not entered into detail about guarantees.
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on social media that she was in Qatar on Monday to meet with the ruling emir. The emir’s office confirmed the meeting in a statement, providing no further details.
The United States announced on Thursday it will restart deportations of Venezuelans who cross the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully, an agreement two of the sources said was achieved during the Doha talks.
Three candidates in an opposition nominating contest scheduled for this month are all banned from holding office, including Henrique Capriles, who on Sunday said he would stand down and leave his replacement up to his party.
The opposition said last week it would move forward with the primary despite a request by the national electoral council for a delay.