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Venezuela’s “Iron Lady” Calls for New Opposition Leadership after Failed Dialogue

By: Sabrina Martín - @SabrinaMartinR - Nov 22, 2016, 4:12 pm
María Corina Machado, Venezuela's Iron Lady
María Corina Machado: Venezuela’s “Iron Lady” calls for a new opposition leadership after “dialogue” with Maduro ends in total failure. (Noti Hoy

EspañolThe negotiation between the Venezuelan opposition and dictator Nicolás Maduro has failed totally according to María Corina Machado, Venezuela’s “Iron Lady” and leader of the Vente Venezuela party. Machado told the PanAm Post that she intends to create a new movement within civil society that doesn’t depend on politicos in order to fight for liberal democracy in the country.

Machado stated that the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the anti-Chavista coalition that now controls the National Assembly, should include civil society organizations which are not represented. She also assured that her intention is not to divide the opposition, but rather to offer a real solution to get rid of the Maduro dictatorship.

PanAm Post: What has the negotiation between the MUD leaders and Maduro achieved?

María Corina MachadoThe result is terrible. Far from accelerating the process towards democracy, the MUD opposition gave away its most important asset in the fight for democracy: the strength of the people.

We are facing a dictatorship, but not just any dictatorship. This is a militaristic dictatorship. It’s a completely cruel, corrupt and criminal dictatorship. It’s clear that the Venezuelan regime has ceased to be a political project and has turned itself into a criminal organization.

The Maduro regime sought a dialogue in order to deactivate the massive citizen protests against the government, and it was successful. They wanted to stop the National Assembly from impeaching Maduro, and it was successful. They also managed to take away the opposition’s qualified majority in the National Assembly by invalidating the election of three members from the state of Amazonas.

The MUD also might have given away the support it had received from democrats around the world. On October 20, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court blocked a legal recall referendum against Maduro, the world recognized that a dictatorship had broken the country’s constitutional order. Therefore there was an enormous amount of pressure on the Organization of American States (OAS) to apply its democratic charter against the Venezuelan government.

Has the opposition achieved nothing by negotiating with Maduro?

Until now, a few “hostages,” a euphemism for political prisoners, have been released. The problem is that the regime frees five political prisoners in order to incarcerate another 13. As soon as one leaves prison through the front door, several more are brought in through the back.

In reality, there is no way to negotiate the freedom of political prisoners with a dictatorial regime. We need a transition towards a system of justice with honest, autonomous, and independent judges who will liberate not only four or five political prisoners, but all of them. They must also allow the persecuted exiles to return. This is what is truly at stake.

Certain critics say that the Maduro regime was near its breaking point before the negotiations with the opposition began. Do you agree?

That is true, and Maduro himself admitted that his regime was in a position of weakness. They had to recognize and accept a transition process immediately because the three main forces that can topple a dictatorship were acting together: the citizenry was protesting massively on the streets, there was an institutional offensive in the National Assembly, and the international community was exerting its pressure.

It was clear that the government was near its breaking point. That is why they acted in desperation and they sought the only legitimate option available to them by making sure that the Vatican vouched for the negotiation with the opposition.

Why did the opposition accept a negotiation with the Maduro regime if its downfall was imminent?

Nobody understands the MUD’s decision to negotiate at that point. As Venezuelans, we must act with firmness and demand clear answers from the democratic opposition’s leadership.

I want to insist that there was a unified agenda approved by the citizens when we protested on October 26, when millions of Venezuelans peacefully took the streets of Caracas.

All of a sudden, three political parties decided to depart from the agreed agenda without asking anybody’s approval and without any previous debate. The next morning they appeared alongside the government around a negotiating table. The decision was not taken within the opposition’s unified block. This was clearly a position inspired by the Cuban regime which, as Archbishop Ovidio Pérez Morales told me recently, has two objectives: to divide the opposition and to weaken the Catholic Church’s credibility.

We can’t allow either of these options to succeed, but those responsible for breaking the opposition’s unity and demobilizing the country three weeks ago must accept their share of the blame. They must recognize that citizens distrust the negotiations with the regime and that it’s time to bring back the unified agenda. In other words, they must suspend their dialogue with the government.

We must assume a position of strength, not a position of weakness. How could they surrender the legitimacy of the three National Assembly members from Amazonas? That is clearly not negotiable. It also has to be clear that, if there is a negotiation, the only issue at stake is the date of the recall referendum against Maduro. The only alternative is to hold a presidential election immediately.

That is what the country expects. We can’t allow ourselves to be fooled with promises that are never meant to be fulfilled.

Have you expressed your concerns to the MUD? What have they responded? 

Of course I have told them what I think not once, but hundreds of times in private meetings, in letters, and publicly.

Some of them claim that differences within the democratic opposition should not be expressed publicly. My reply is: are we or are we not democrats? Do we believe in citizen scrutiny and participation or not?

It’s totalitarian movements like the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) that don’t allow dissent. They take a decision and then impose it. Nobody questions it.

If we are democrats, we believe in a democracy in which different viewpoints are discussed publicly. Open debate cannot be a source of weakness. On the contrary, it is a source of strength because when people get to hear different positions, they are able to give their own opinion and, above all, decide who should represent them as their leaders.

It is unacceptable for the MUD or any other democratic coalition to forbid internal criticism and to deny citizens the right to present their concerns openly. On December 6, 2015, a majority of Venezuelan voters gave the opposition a mandate to enact real political change because the country needs it urgently. Venezuelans are suffering and don’t have the time for petty political arrangements that benefit one party or another.

Both the regime and the opposition have to accept this mandate. This is what is at stake. The MUD has the obligation of listening to the people and respecting their decision.

What do you mean exactly when you say that the political arrangements benefit one party or another? What kind of agreements is the regime offering in order to keep the MUD parties at the negotiating table?

The only thing that could be on the table is the constitution itself, but that is the only thing that is not negotiable. Any serious opposition would have drawn that red line quite clearly.

According to the constitution, there are rules to summon a recall referendum and we complied with them all. The referendum cannot be negotiated even if the regime offers concessions. That is what Venezuelans expect from their political representatives.

We do believe that the necessary transition requires a negotiated agreement, but we must reach that transition from a position of strength, holding on to our principles, and exerting the power that we already have. We have to act as a majority, because we are an immense majority, not as the weak minority that now represents us before the Maduro government.

But Venezuelans think that there is no talk of transition at the negotiating table. So what are they discussing?

That is why this process must be stopped. Our slogan must be: “we want dialogue, but not this kind of dialogue.” The country must understand that this is the road to keeping Maduro in power until 2019, and that is an eternity.

We cannot abide by the designs of Cuba’s communist regime. Also, we cannot be subject to Latin American geopolitical arrangements that seek to avoid political instability in Venezuela at all costs. Their philosophy is that, since things must remain calm, Venezuelans have to resign themselves and wait indefinitely.

But what are we waiting for? More deaths? How can you ask a mother who is waiting in line to buy food and hasn’t been able to obtain milk for her children in 18 months because she can’t afford imported goods to wait until 2019?

How can you ask a grandfather who bids farewell to his last grandchild as he leaves the country, or the merchants whose goods are stolen daily, to wait until 2019? Is there any time to wait when children are being kidnapped on their way to school, as happened last week in the state of Aragua?

According to the powers that be, Venezuela must remain subdued in order not to upset Cuba’s new relationship with the United States or the Colombian peace agreement. This is morally unacceptable and, as Venezuelans, we not only have the right but also the duty to rebel against any international agreement that intends to sacrifice Venezuela.

This requires calling things by their proper name and rebuking those who are negotiating with the regime on behalf of three parties that don’t represent the entire MUD, let alone all of Venezuela. We must also rebuke those who are at the negotiating table as mediators and tell them that a majority of Venezuelans reject this process.

If the opposition parties leave the negotiating table, what comes next? How can Venezuelans get rid of Maduro before 2019?

I think the route is very clear. It’s the route of unity that we followed before the dialogue with the regime began. Maduro knew that the opposition’s strategy was working and he decided to stop it because he also knew he was about to be toppled. They were facing people on the street but protesters were acting in a civic, organized, intelligent manner.

We can’t believe the regime when they say that, if we protest, we are violent. That is a false and cruel dilemma. The only available options are not bloodshed vs. dialogue or violence vs. submission. There is a middle ground: an efficient mobilization of the citizenry along with the recall referendum and, if this is denied, impeachment.

First of all, Venezuelans must continue taking the streets with firmness. Second, the National Assembly must carry on with the impeachment trial against Maduro. Third, the international community has to speak plainly and apply the democratic charter against Venezuela at the OAS. Other organizations such as Mercosur have made clear that the Maduro regime violates all rules of liberal democracy.

What will happen to the MUD? Apparently, its leadership is asking for popular support for its negotiations.

It is necessary for all democratic forces to act together, but this is not only a political struggle. This is also a citizen struggle in which all sectors must be represented. It is no longer enough to have a coalition of parties designed to win an election. We now need all sectors of civil society to take part in the process.

We have to heed the voices of students, workers, nurses, doctors, professors, teachers, mothers, informal workers. We have to create a broad citizen movement that can speak out alongside the political parties which are necessary, but we have to recognize that their strength alone is not enough.

The MUD has to understand that there is no other choice but to fight. Now is the time for the citizens to be heard and we will neither succumb nor allow a few people to negotiate our inalienable rights. We have decided to move forward.

We speak clearly when we say to all those who, whether in Venezuela or abroad, are trying to silence our voices: we will not allow Venezuela to be sacrificed.

This has a cost. We have been accused of being divisive, exaggerated, we have been called extremists because we say that Venezuela is under a dictatorship. They said we were stretching the truth when we said there was a humanitarian crisis on the way and that the regime was becoming a criminal organization. But even if there is a political cost to speaking the truth, we are willing to pay that cost because, for Venezuelans, it is a matter of life or death.

Are we extremists? Hunger in Venezuela is extreme; the violence that takes 70 lives each day is extreme. There is no choice but to remain firm in the face of this regime. Now is the hour of courage, the hour of bravery, the qualities that are not scarce in Venezuela.

What are your party’s concrete plans? Will you join other civil society organizations?

Our plan is to assume the unified agenda once more. The citizens must take peacefully to the streets against Maduro. We need protests, assemblies, signatures, all that is necessary for Venezuelans to demand Maduro’s immediate resignation. We also need to pressure the National Assembly so that they impeach Maduro. Finally, we need to tell the entire international community that now is the time for the OAS to apply the democratic charter against the Venezuelan regime. This is the plan that works. The strategy was already working but the regime buried it with the negotiations. We will bring it back with unity, with a great citizen movement that includes not only the MUD and other political parties but also all of the sectors that are demanding the opportunity to take part in shaping Venezuela’s future.

Would the Supreme Court block an impeachment trial against Maduro?

Definitely, but that means that we have to carry on with the process instead of standing still. We have to accelerate. We can’t allow the Supreme Court, which is unconstitutional (since it was packed with Chavista cronies), to set the country’s political agenda and determine the limits of Venezuelan democracy. That is not why the current National Assembly was elected.

In a phrase, how would you qualify the negotiations between the MUD and the Maduro regime?

It’s a failure, a fraud. Having learned the lesson, we will continue the struggle. We will gather our strength so that when we reach a real negotiation we can prove that it is possible to defeat a dictatorship with determination and clarity. That is our strategy and our destination.

Sabrina Martín Sabrina Martín

Sabrina Martín is a Venezuelan journalist, commentator, and editor based in Valencia with experience in corporate communication. Follow @SabrinaMartinR.