Jesús Torrealba: “Venezuela is Already in Transition”


EspañolWith a background in education, and later a tabloid journalist, Jesús “Chúo” Torrealba has since taken the leap into politics, becoming the secretary of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) five months ago. He took up the post in a critical moment for the Venezuelan opposition, fractured amid violent protests nationwide against the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Torrealba, líder comunitario y periodista, le ha dado mordiente en la calle a la coalición opositora (Prodavinci)
Torrealba, a community leader and journalist, has led opposition protests in the street. (Prodavinci)

With Torrealba, the MUD has gained popular muscle, and gone about carefully reconstructing unity amid the ranks of the opposition to Chavismo, to the point where he suggests that political transition in Venezuela “has already begun.”

The PanAm Post spoke with the opposition leader about MUD announcements expected on Friday, January 23, which are due to launch a new wave of protests over the economic and social crises currently afflicting the South American country.

What’s the reason behind these mobilizations, and what kind of turnout are you expecting for them? 

Beyond the demonstrations is the importance of developing a shared vision of the crisis. We’re facing extremely deep political, economic, and social crises. It’s vital not to give knee-jerk responses to the events that could unfold, but to develop a common outlook. And that’s precisely the content of the message to the nation that the opposition is going to deliver today.

On Saturday [January 24] we’re going to hold a series of demonstrations throughout Venezuela, with the umbrella slogan “March against Hunger and for Change.” Of course, we believe that the lines outside shops demand the attention of the world; no one can justify that the economy with the most resources in Latin America has ended up challenging Haiti for the lowest position in the region, despite having earned almost US$800 billion in the last 12 years.

This is the opposition’s position: the lines are an annoyance, but the problem is the shortages generated by an economic model which produces and distributes misery, promotes financial insecurity, and a regime that offers impunity to inefficient and corrupt state officials.

What are you going to announce today? Are you going to outline a political alternative? 

What’s most important today in Venezuela is the issue of changing the system, independently of whether we have parliamentary elections this year. You can sense it clearly in the streets: people are saying that they can’t put up with it any longer, or that a change has to happen soon. And when they talk in this way, they don’t mean a coup, or a bloody uprising. What they’re saying is that the current system isn’t capable of providing solutions, and that a change is needed.

The announcements are centered on this idea. Up until now, the opposition has been viewed as another threat, only adding to the crisis. We need to stop being the opposition, stop being the resistance, and become a genuine political alternative. We can only do this under one condition: unity. So that’s exactly why elements of the leadership like that of Henrique Capriles,  María Corina Machado, and Leopoldo López, will all feature today in this show of increasing unity.

But we also need mutually agreed action plans for the contingencies that could emerge as the crisis develops. We have a clearly defined strategy: to seek urgent political change, in the government and the model, through democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and electoral mechanisms.

But, as we’re in a political crisis, another scenario could emerge, even a change to the constitutional balance. The Chavista project has in its DNA a cult of violence for the sake of violence, so we can’t rule out the danger of another violent constitutional change coming from the government.

The democratic alternative has the responsibility of being prepared for any of these contingencies. If there’s a political or social stalemate, we can then use our leadership to move things towards democracy. If there’s an attempt to resolve the crisis through non-constitutional mechanisms, the opposition will be firm and clear in rejecting this, or any other dictatorship.

In the event that we finally reach an electoral scenario, our objective has to be to win legislative power by a wide margin, to make the National Assembly the key political solution to the Venezuelan crisis.

All political analysts agree that the way out the crisis is through approaching and negotiating with moderate Chavistas. Are you making these contacts?

To achieve a solution to the crisis and give make the county governable, we need a process which involves those sectors of the incumbent administration that are aware of the importance of their own participation, and that truly love Venezuela. We don’t doubt that these sectors exist and could come forward. But for now they haven’t; apparently they’re victims of internal blackmail. These aren’t my words, but those of Nicolás Maduro himself, when he returned from his trip abroad and referred to dissident Chavistas as “small-time traitors.”

So, for now, these groups are caught up in the internal dynamics of the regime. But as the crisis develops and deepens, they’ll emerge, before the crisis becomes too costly for the country.

I’m certain that within the government there are people who know that Chavismo could play a key role in Venezuelan politics for many decades to come; but they need to understand that the government is one thing, and so-called Madurismo is another, and learn to separate the two.

What’s the worst scenario that you’re currently preparing for? It seems as though you’re expecting an imminent transition in Venezuela.

We’re already in a process of democratic transition in Venezuela, and this process has accelerated, but it’s important to avoid short-termism, and expect immediate changes. This is the surest way for it to fail. And we’ve seen these mistakes made in abundance in the last 15 years.

Let me be clear: just because we’re in transition, it doesn’t mean that we’re likely to see an imminent denouement. It’s better not to use this kind of telenovela language. We’re not in the final stages; we’re in a political crisis, where the most responsible thing to do is to take a long-term view.

There needs to be a solid, joint effort at the ground level in the barrios and urban centers, among the poor and impoverished, and with the hard-hit middle classes, to build a democratic culture. Why? Because if any of the scenarios we’ve talked about come about, the democratic alternative has to be strong and rooted throughout society.

We’re prepared for any number of diverse outcomes, but we’re clearly working towards the most likely scenario whereby we find a peaceful, electoral exit to the crisis. If another scenario emerges, we have strategies in place to respond, but always from the perspective of non-violence. In that situation, as in any, we would continue to demand that Venezuela’s destiny be decided not by a few supposed saviors of the motherland, but by the free choice of the Venezuelan people.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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