WASHINGTON – Venezuela's foreign minister said Saturday his government welcomes preliminary suggestions made by diplomats from the United States and five other countries to end the political unrest in his country.
"We are convinced that we will reach a solution in democratic way," Roy Chaderton said in an interview.
Chaderton came to Washington to participate in the meeting Friday of the newly formed "Group of Friends," which also includes officials from the Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Spain and Portugal. Also participating was Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, which hosted the meeting.
The diplomats called on the government of President Hugo Chavez and the opposition to tone down their inflammatory rhetoric and end political violence. The countries will send delegations to Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, on Thursday to continue talks to break the political impasse.
"A concern for the risk of violence in Venezuela is valid," Chaderton said. He also said his government would cooperate with the meeting.
A general strike called by the opposition has lasted more than two months, hurting oil production in the world's fifth-largest exporter. The opposition sees the leftist Chavez as authoritarian and hostile to business. Chavez's backers say he has strong support among the country's poor and see the opposition as undemocratic, noting a failed coup attempt in April.
The strike has been marked by large demonstrations and occasional violence. On Saturday, Chavez's opponents held a protest in Caracas to denounce a court ruling that postponed a referendum on Chavez's rule.
Chaderton did not respond directly when asked if Chavez feared the protests would force him from office.
"We have very good reasons to be optimistic that this will have a democratic outcome, because we are a democracy," he said.
Diplomats are discussing proposals made by former President Carter to either hold a binding recall referendum or amend the constitution to allow early presidential elections.