New Venezuela congress leader pushes for negotiated solution


New Venezuela congress leader pushes for negotiated solution

The Associated Press
Venezuela's newly elected National Assembly President Omar Barboza listens to the national anthem after his swearing-in ceremony outside of National Assembly building in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. The seasoned opposition leader is taking the reins of the one of the only branches of Venezuela’s federal government that remains in hands of President Nicolas Maduro’s detractors. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

The new leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly pushed lawmakers toward reaching a negotiated solution with the government Friday, a strategy that has sowed divisions among President Nicolas Maduro's detractors.

Omar Barboza told legislators their top priority should be ensuring a fair vote in the upcoming presidential election following colossal losses in recent races that were either boycotted by government opponents or tainted by claims of fraud.

"The great majority of Venezuelans want a democratic solution to the crisis we are living," the 73-year-old former governor said. "We should achieve that pacifically."

Venezuela's legislature is one of the few government entities that remains in opposition hands but has become essentially powerless. The government-stacked Supreme Court routinely declares its laws unconstitutional and an all-powerful, pro-Maduro assembly installed last year has taken over its legislative authority.

Opposition leaders spearheaded nearly-daily demonstrations last year that brought thousands of Venezuelans onto the streets in protest against Maduro's rule, but more recently have struggled to reassert themselves. Recent electoral losses have left the opposition's base disillusioned and leaders divided over whether to negotiate with a government that supporters consider illegitimate.

Barboza, a seasoned opposition leader, acknowledged the opposition had made mistakes since winning a majority in congress in 2015 while also accusing the government of purposely trying to create mistrust among Maduro's foes.

"The important thing is to improve and move ahead," he said to applause.

Venezuelan government and opposition leaders held talks in December without reaching an accord but are set to meet in the Dominican Republic again next week. Some observers have been hopeful a deal might be struck as Maduro's cash-strapped administration looks for support to refinance Venezuela's foreign debt.

Barboza replaces Julio Borges, who led the assembly during last year's spate of protests that left at least 120 people dead. Borges is now part of the opposition's delegation trying to reach a negotiated solution with the government.

In a sign of the nation's continued polarization the rivaling constitutional assembly held its opening session hours later Friday, with leaders vowing to unite against opposition factions they characterized as "fascists" intent on destroying the nation.

The troubled Latin American nation is scheduled to hold a vote for president this year, though no date has been set.

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