Venezuela's opposition opts out of government talks. Missed opportunity?

Taking part in a government dialog could serve as an endorsement of the Maduro administration's 'repression,' opposition leader Capriles said.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Opposition leader Enrique Capriles delivers a speech next to Lilian Tintori, wife of detained opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, during a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.

Hopes of ending Venezuela's deadly political standoff faded on Monday. 

While protestors piled trash and lit fires in the streets of Caracas, opposition leader Henrique Capriles called off a meeting with President Nicolás Maduro.

"I'm not going to go and make Nicolás Maduro look good," said Mr. Capriles at a press conference just hours before the meeting was scheduled. "How am I going to go [to the Miraflores Presidential Palace] while there is a situation of repression and violations of human rights?"

The meeting between state and local officials was touted as a chance for dialog in the troubled nation, but Capriles, the governor of the state of Miranda, said that taking part would look like an endorsement of government "repression."

He and other leaders of the opposition coalition are demanding the release of jailed leader Leopoldo López and dozens of student demonstrators who have been detained during the past weeks of protests. They also want President Maduro to address a slew of other issues such as soaring crime and shortages of many basic consumer goods.

Despite indications that he would attend the talks, analysts say Capriles' sudden refusal is a move to hold onto the support of rank and file hardliners, many of whom have pledged to stay in the streets until Maduro steps down. As Venezuela's leaders stay entrenched along political lines, they risk perpetuating the ongoing conflict and costing more lives.

"It may be a missed opportunity to ease tensions but entering negotiations right now would cost Capriles a huge amount of political capital," says Ángel Álvarez, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela.

Fighting for 'a better country'

Mr. Álvarez says escalating violence and heavy-handed government tactics pressured Capriles to shift course.

Clashes between security forces and antigovernment protestors erupted in cities throughout Venezuela yesterday as demonstrators erected barricades in an effort to clog the country's roadways. Two people died, bringing the death toll from recent political violence to at least 13, with around 150 wounded.

Fighting in the western state of Táchira – where one of yesterday's deaths occurred – has been particularly fierce. An increased military presence and prolonged violence there produced rare criticism from State Gov. Jose Vielma Mora, a ruling-party member, on the government's handling of the protests. His comments provoked a storm of outrage on social media and Mr. Vielma later appeared on national television professing his support for the president.

Still, the incident highlights the strain the country is under and shows that even within the government, not everyone believes that the problems are solely the fault of protestors intent on toppling his 10-month old administration.

Speaking in front of the Miraflores Presidential Palace yesterday, Maduro told a crowd of thousands of motorcycle riders who rallied in support of the ruling Socialist Party that Venezuela faced a “fascist coup” led by forces bent on "ending democracy."

Maduro also called for broader talks on Wednesday to discuss the crisis. It is not yet clear if Capriles or other opposition leaders will attend.

"Capriles realizes he too is prisoner to the political polarization," says Luis Vicente Leon, head of the Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis. "However, the opposition still has to put forward an alternative to protests."

The opposition has issued a list of discussion points for a potential dialogue and requested that an outside arbiter mediate any discussions.

Yet, while protests continue throughout Venezuela, the bickering of leaders on both sides of the political divide is doing little to sway many Venezuelans still in the streets.

"We're not Maduro, Chávez, or Capriles," says Moises Larousse, a university student, while dragging debris on to a major Caracas roadway. " We're the one's fighting for a better country."

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