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Venezuela’s Maduro to resume talks with opposition Friday

Photo: Federico Parra / AFP

| By AFP | Esteban Rojas with Lina Vanegas en Bogota |

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government will resume talks with the opposition Friday after more than a year in a bid to resolve a political crisis that has gripped the country since a contested 2018 election.

Formal negotiations between the two sides last took place in October 2021 in Mexico, and international efforts have mounted in recent months to get the talks back on track.

The opposition is seeking free and fair presidential elections, next due in 2024, while Caracas wants the international community to recognize Maduro as the rightful president and lift sanctions.

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“Dialogue between Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan opposition will resume on the 25th and 26th of November,” Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro wrote on Twitter.

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido’s office, however, tweeted that “information about a possible agreement and restart of the negotiations will be announced by official sources,” or by “the facilitating country, Norway.”

“Speculation hinders the possibility of a deal,” the office said. 

While Colombia’s Petro did not specify where the talks would take place, a Venezuelan opposition source close to the negotiations told AFP the delegations would meet in Mexico City on Friday.

Venezuela was already facing a severe economic crisis and a brutal government crackdown on protests when a contested presidential election in 2018 plunged it into a political impasse.

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Maduro declared himself the victor of the poll, which was widely seen as fraudulent, prompting massive protests.

Meanwhile, almost 60 countries, including the United States, recognized opposition leader Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president.

The US and the European Union imposed painful sanctions on Venezuela, worsening an economy that has seen roaring inflation in recent years, prompting millions to flee the country.

One measure prevented Venezuela from trading its crude oil — which accounted for 96 percent of the country’s revenues — on the US market.

Ukraine war sparks new impetus

After two prior negotiation efforts failed, the most recent round of talks between the government and opposition started in August 2021 in Mexico.

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However, Maduro suspended the negotiations two months later in retaliation for the extradition to the United States by Cape Verde of Alex Saab, a Colombian national accused of acting as a money launderer for the Venezuelan socialist leader.

Earlier this month, negotiators for both sides met in Paris under the mediation of French President Emmanuel Macron.

International efforts to resolve the Venezuelan crisis have gained strength since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pressure it has placed on global energy supplies.

US President Joe Biden’s administration announced in May it would ease some sanctions as energy prices surged due to the war.

At the same time, Guaido’s influence has ebbed, and he has lost key allies both at home and in the region, where many countries have since elected leftist presidents.

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Colombia’s Petro has become a new actor in the talks since becoming his country’s first leftist president in August.

He has worked to improve his country’s relationship with Venezuela, resuming diplomatic ties for the first time since 2019, when former president Ivan Duque refused to recognize Maduro’s election.

Venezuela is now also hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the last official rebel group in the country, the National Liberation Army.

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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