Venezuela talks with opposition unlikely to resume this year

By Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS (Reuters) -Venezuela's government and opposition politicians will likely not resume talks in Mexico this year, an official said on Thursday, as the government awaits progress on a humanitarian funds agreement reached with the opposition last month.

Government and opposition delegates met in Mexico City in late November, after over a year's hiatus, to sign a deal to create a United Nations-administered fund to combat the country's humanitarian crisis, funded by billions of dollars frozen in foreign banks.

"Everything seems to indicate that this year we will not return (to Mexico)," Nicolas Maduro Guerra, the son of President Nicolas Maduro and one of the government negotiators told Reuters.

"We agreed to continue having some contact here in Caracas to allow us to evaluate the progress of this agreement," he added.

Venezuelan opposition parties are seeking to protect the U.N.-administered humanitarian funds from foreign creditors by keeping the details of their release confidential, sources told Reuters.

While President Maduro said he trusts that the funds will "soon" be released, the decision rests in the courts of countries holding the funds.

Maduro Guerra, also a national assembly lawmaker, said both sides had met with the U.N. to map out how the funds will reach the Venezuelan people, some half of whom live in poverty.

He said a "technical board" had been installed to work on the fund, and depending on its results, the government could discuss other potential agreements, such as on the 2024 presidential elections.

He said one of the government demands included removing the "price from the president's head." The United States in 2020 announced multi-million dollar rewards for information leading to the arrest or prosecution of some Venezuelans, including Maduro.

Washington sees Maduro's 2018 re-election as a fraud and the following year imposed oil and financial sanctions on the country intended to oust him.

The United States has recently eased some of those sanctions, but will roll them back if dialogue between the government and opposition does not produce meaningful results, an adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

Washington last month issued a license allowing U.S. oil major Chevron to expand operations in the country and bring Venezuelan crude to the United States, on the condition of a renewed political dialogue.

"Our position is clear if there is no progress in the negotiations, we are going to restore sanctions," said Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council's senior director for the Western Hemisphere, during an event on Venezuela organized by London think-tank Chatham House.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Washington; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Sarah Morland, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)