Venezuela's efforts towards national dialogue appear to be falling by the wayside amid a severe eco-political crisis.
The opposition has expressed discontent with the ongoing talks with government representatives, deciding to move away from the table earlier this week. President of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said Thursday that the dialogue effort was "absolutely dead".
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) decided Tuesday not to participate in future meetings until the government complies with the agreements reached in previous encounters, Anadolu Agency reported.
The party refers, among other things, to the release of political prisoners, respect for the autonomy of the National Assembly, and the need for setting up an electoral timetable.
"We will maintain our relationship only with the mediators and especially with the Vatican, in order to follow up on compliance with what has already been agreed", the MUD's executive secretary Jesus Torrealba announced on local radio.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday revived his call to dissolve the opposition-controlled assembly in the latest clash following the recent suspension of crisis talks.
The socialist president accused members of the MUD of falling short in carrying out their duties.
He then resumed threats to dissolve the legislature, which he has made repeatedly since his opponents took control of the assembly in January.
"Today, the National Assembly once again did not have a quorum," the embattled leader told a local broadcaster. "What do we do with the National Assembly? Immediate dismissal! Dissolution!"
Maduro's words came two days after the center right-dominated opposition's decision to withdraw from a meeting with the Vatican and regional Latin American mediators.
The dialogue was initiated at the end of October to resolve a host of issues plaguing Venezuela, including lack of basic food and medicine supplies and a failing economy at large that suffered in recent years for being too oil-dependent and suffered from low oil prices over the last couple of years.
The two sides met separately on Tuesday with the mediators' team, headed by the Vatican representative Claudio Maria Celli and four former Latin American presidents.
Mediators will offer strategies to continue the rapprochement between the ruling party and the opposition, and work to define a new electoral timetable, Celli said, according to local media.
Venezuela's government and the opposition agreed last month to work on a road map to normalize the constitutional relationship between the powers of the state, but the effort has been marred by a campaign of public disqualifications.
President Nicolas Maduro has been at the receiving end of caustic criticism for the crises, and the opposition sought a recall vote to oust him, which was suspended by a court decision.
Deal reached with the UN for medicine supply
As the country's economic crisis deepens, the Venezuelan government has reached an agreement with the United Nations to expand cooperation in the supply of medicines to the cash-strapped South American country, according to authorities.
"We have even addressed others mechanisms such as the search for medicines at really affordable prices and how Venezuela has made use of them," Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodriguez said in a meeting Thursday with UN representatives.
Rodriguez said the administration of Nicolas Maduro is looking at measures to strengthen its food policies and defeat the "false media that tries to sell a humanitarian crisis".
"We work for the country and for not to succumb to the pressures of the imperial centers of power that pretend to take back the rights of the people", she added.
The lack of supply in hospitals is of such magnitude that only three percent of the needs are fulfilled, the president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation (FMV) Douglas Leon Natera said Thursday.
The situation has caused a sharp deterioration in the quality and safety of healthcare in the past two years, but Maduro has made limited efforts to obtain international humanitarian assistance, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Scarcities affect daily life and economy
Amid a deepening economic crisis, prices of almost all imports skyrocketed, leading to shortages that affect the economy and the daily life.
While filling a bus's tank with petrol in oil-rich Venezuela is super-cheap, dozens of buses and minibus-style public vehicles stand abandoned and rusting in wastelands due to a scarcity of tires, batteries and carburetors.
"Fifty percent of the fleet is out of action across the whole country," or about 100,000 vehicles, Erick Zuleta, president of the National Transport Federation, told AFP.
"We couldn't get hold of a spare. We had to spend four months looking around," William Faneite, a Caracas bus driver and a 51-year-old father of four, told AFP. When he did find one, "it was super expensive."
The bus's owner leases the vehicle, a battered old blue 1987 model, to him and he earns a commission based on the number of passengers. Faneite was out of work for four months.
Falling prices for its crucial oil exports have left Venezuela short of dollars to import supplies.
The government's special low fixed exchange rate is meant to help Venezuelans afford essential goods, such as tires and engine oil. But there just aren't enough to go round. Drivers have to buy spares on the black market, where they cost five times the official price.
The price of a bus ticket meanwhile recently rose to the equivalent of about 10 US cents at the official rate.
That seems like little, but in Venezuela's lop-sided monetary situation nothing is as simple as it looks.
Driving his routes in eastern Caracas, Faneite earns about 5,000 bolivars a day. That gives him nearly eight dollars of spending power at the official fixed exchange rate. But it is worth little more than one dollar on the black market, where Venezuelans are forced to buy much of what they need to live. If Faneite wants to buy lunch, it eats up half of his daily earnings.
"It is impossible to operate with the current prices," says bus drivers' union leader Hugo Ocando. He spoke standing in a yard where a handful of mechanics toiled trying to repair about 20 broken-down buses.
Used to queuing for rations of food and medicine, Venezuelans also form long lines to catch one of the dwindling numbers of buses.
Victor Rojas, 25, crosses the city from west to east to get to his job at a cinema. "You waste a lot of time waiting for the minibus to come," he said. "And when you do get on, it is falling to pieces."
Those who have to travel from town to town often see their trip turn into an Odyssey as the few buses available make detours to cover extra routes.
Ginette Arellano, 42, sits on the bus with her son for up to nine hours to get to Caracas from her hometown of Barquisimeto, about 350 kilometers (217 miles) away.
On top of that, public buses are prey to violence in one of the world's most dangerous cities.
Driver Faneite says he has been the victim of three armed robberies.
54-year-old Maduro, who is a former bus driver, has vowed to pull Venezuelans out of an economic crisis which he says is a capitalist conspiracy.
Crime, piracy on the rise, rural areas affected the worst
Venezuelans have a saying: "Caracas is Caracas, and the rest is jungle and snakes." The South American country has few major cities, and when times are hard, the sooty, crowded capital gets the lion's share of resources. This means the collapse of the economy in the rest of the country has been far more savage, and less visible.
In the coastal state of Sucre, the emergency room floods daily and patients help hospital staff members sweep out the muddy water out with brooms.
In cinderblock homes with dirt floors, children and adults sleep through the afternoon. With no hope of buying enough food, it makes most sense to conserve energy. Families fill the empty time talking about things they wish they could afford: pasta, corn flour and sugar. Produce doesn't even make the wish list. Parents say teachers have been stealing the food meant for school lunches.
Fed up with the hunger and seeming indifference to their plight, Sucre residents began looting grocery stores last summer. Now, soldiers with AK-47s guard even the smallest bakeries and bodegas.
People here once made a bare living in the fishing and sugar industries. When the late President Hugo Chavez promised to lift them up through a socialist revolution, they voted for him three to one. Now, the sugar and fish processing plants work at half capacity on good days. Machinery rusts in the salty breeze, and there's no way to replace broken parts.
Workers are turning to crime, and career criminals are getting more sadistic. This fall, a gang stuffed a victim's severed head into his stomach. Weeks later, members of an elite military unit made nine men kneel in front of their home and shot them dead.
Pirates are also terrorizing Sucre, once home to the world's fourth-largest tuna fleet and a thriving fishing industry.
That trade has collapsed, and angs of out-of-work fishermen prey upon those who still venture out into the open sea, stealing their catch and their motors, tying them up, throwing them overboard, and sometimes shooting them. The robberies have taken place daily this year, and dozens of fishermen have died.
"People can't make a living fishing anymore, so they're using their boats for the options that are left: smuggling gas, running drugs, and piracy," said Jose Antonio Garcia, leader of the state's largest union.
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