Venezuelanalysis reposts an interview with the governments Charge D’Affairs in Washington DC, explaining the panorama from the government’s perspective
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. On Wednesday, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council announced that the next presidential elections will be held on April 22nd. International mediators and government representatives had hoped that the opposition negotiators would sign an agreement that the two side had worked out over the past several months. However, despite pressure from Spain’s former Prime Minister Zapatero, opposition negotiators have so far not signed the agreement, nor committed to participating in the next presidential election.
Earlier this week, I spoke to the Venezuelan Embassy’s charge d’affaires in Washington, D.C., Carlos Ron, who joined me in our Baltimore studios. One of the topics we talked about was the upcoming presidential election in Venezuela. For full disclosure, I must say once again that Carlos and I used to work for President Chavez at Miraflores in Caracas. Thank you.
CARLOS RON: My pleasure.
SHARMINI PERIES: Carlos, one very big issue that is outstanding at this point is the issue of whether the opposition will participate in the upcoming election. Give us a sense of what the issues are about the opposition participating in the elections.
CARLOS RON: We’ve seen the perception is that there’s sectors of the opposition that are not interested in participating. Last year, we had three electoral processes for the Constituent Assembly, for the governors and for municipal elections. And the results were kind of surprising for them, in the sense that they realized that they lost a lot of support in some of these elections. We think that it is really the result of people upset at their leadership, the opposition leadership, because for half of last year, it took them towards all these violent protests where they tried to create chaos in the country. At the end of the day, their own base was also angry at this strategy, and it showed by them not supporting some of these political parties. So,I think that now they face the challenge of not having support because their own base is upset about the violence and the possibility of not having enough support to win a presidential challenge.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, some people in the opposition are saying, “The election has been advanced. Normally it would be taking place late in the year and it has been advanced because it is in the benefit of the ruling party. Because of oil prices are up, it’s doing better than it did in the past in terms of the economy. Of course, the opposition is in disarray and doesn’t have a clear leader chosen to run against the ruling party of Maduro. So, these are mechanisms or tactics to manipulate the upcoming election. Would you agree with that?
CARLOS RON: No, I think even if we go over the issues of the oil prices, for you to actually feel the new result of higher prices, you need to let a few months go down the road, because the payments are done over a set period of time. It’s not something immediate. That argument, I think, falls apart.
The other issue that there might be some truth to what you said that they are in disarray, they really don’t have a united front because they don’t really know what to do. Some of them, there’s groups of opposition leaders that are here in the United States that have claimed there is no need to go to elections, there’s no way, the only way to get rid of President Maduro would be through a coup or something violent to that effect. They are not really committed to participating in the democratic process.
Look, at the end of the day, last year, for the last two years even, the one thing that they’ve always been calling for is presidential elections. They wanted those elections to be held earlier. They wanted those elections to be held immediately at some point in time. It’s surprising that now that they see that their perspectives of winning are so gloomy, now they decided that they don’t want to participate, or part of them decided they don’t want to participate.
It is important, though, to know that part of the opposition is signing up, it has a percent of candidates already. Acción Democrática, who has been almost you could say the antagonist party to Chavismo, even before President Chávez was elected, is participating. It’s presenting a candidate. Dissidents from Chavismo have presented candidates. For example, Henri Falcón is also aspiring to be a presidential candidate. There is an opposition that wants to go to elections. There’s just a group that took the violent strategy last year. That’s the one that’s trying to pull off.
SHARMINI PERIES: What about the candidates who have been barred from participating in the process?
CARLOS RON: There is different reasons for some of these people to not be in the process. Again, there is usually, politicians that have somehow been accused of or have trials. For example, Leopoldo López is one of those who has a conviction. He may not be able to participate and others to that effect, people that are being charged with corruption. Other countries do the same thing. There’s always rules about who is able to participate, especially if they have accusations of corruption during some of their tenures. Again, these people that are barred are not necessarily running candidates. They’re people that are politicians in Venezuela and not necessarily the ones running for this election in particular. Others are. Others are able to run, so there’s a lot of, there’s a whole array of opposition leaders who could very well come out and dispute the elections.
SHARMINI PERIES: Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, has already stated that they would not recognize this election, even before the election had taken place or whether he knew who the candidates were. What is the purpose in doing that? I know this is perhaps a question to the US government, but they are going around Latin America trying to get more countries to not recognize this presidential election. As far as you know, why is this taking place and is Tillerson successful in mustering support for the opposition?
CARLOS RON: I think it’s important to point out that this is very troublesome for Venezuelans, because first of all, it’s a violation of international law. The right of self-determination is violated when you have another government basically say that, “Whatever you do, whatever the result of your elections are, we’re not going to recognize them.”
It’s already infringing upon Venezuela’s rights, but also it does reveal that the intention seems to be regime change in Venezuela, whatever the costs are. During his, like you said, his trip to, right before he left the United States, actually, he gave a speech in Austin where he said, in a way that reminded us a lot about President Bush, when he said, “Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists,” Secretary Tillerson says, “Either you’re with democracies and the United States or you’re with Maduro,” so, putting Venezuela into that perspective, which points at what has happened to other countries in the same way. It’s what happened in Libya, what happened in Syria, what happened in Iraq. It seems like there’s a willingness to exert some sort of regime change in Venezuela and not to recognize any of our institutions.
REX TILLERSON: Well, President Maduro could choose to just leave. I mean, that would (laughter). That’d be the easiest. We have not advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro; rather, we have advocated that they return to the constitution. We do not recognize the constituent assembly as legitimate, and they need to get back to the constitution and follow the constitution. I think there will be a change. We want it to be a peaceful change. In the history of Venezuela, and in fact, the history of other Latin American, South American countries, oftentimes it’s the military that handles that. When things are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know. If he is not re-elected by the people, so be it. If the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I’m sure that he’s got some friends over in Cuba that could give him a nice hacienda on the beach, and he can have a nice life over there.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Carlos. Tell us what this moment was about and what does it resonate in terms of the history of Venezuela and Latin American relations?
CARLOS RON: Well, it’s very telling that there is an option under consideration that has to do with regime change, when you basically do an open invitation for anybody in the Venezuelan military to take an action that has been taken before in Latin America, and overthrow the government. We have a horrible history in our continent, in Chile, Guatemala, and Brazil, and Uruguay, all these coups. And even more recently what happened in Brazil, and Honduras, and Paraguay, ways that people in the military have affected democracy and tried to overthrow the government.
At the end of the day, it just seems that there is an intent of not recognizing, of not letting the people of Venezuela choose. If there was to be any electoral process, they wouldn’t let the Venezuelan people vote for President Maduro, for Chavismo to continue because they already set their minds that that’s not what they want.
SHARMINI PERIES: Carlos, there’s a lot of hype in the Western media about how the government of President Maduro is not going to allow certain opposition candidates to participate in this election. Therefore, it’s seriously impeding the democratic process from taking place. Is that so, and what is your take on it?
CARLOS RON: Like I said before, there are very important parties from the opposition, very representative, very numerous in their base, who have already been presenting candidates, and they’re taking part in the process. However, there’s a few groups that were somehow tied to the violence of last year. Their tragedy is not that the president or the government’s not letting them participate. Actually, their base is not backing them up in order to do that.
Under Venezuelan electoral law, a party that has not participated in a national process needs to renew, revalidate its membership because it skipped the process, basically. That was being asked, for example, for Primero Justicia. The tragedy for Primero Justicia is that they went out and asked people to validate their membership, to come out and vote for them, and… that they were members of the party. Indeed, they didn’t gather enough signatures to do that.
You could tell. You could see why, because once you’ve offered before violence as your strategy, and then you want your base to come back and try elections, there’s obviously a trauma there about their own base. It’s their own fault. By the way, that’s not something that happens only in Venezuela. The revalidation of parties is something that even here in the United States. If you go to the FEC, you see that parties that don’t have the sufficient votes in certain elections to sustain their status as a qualified party are also required sometimes to come out and gather signatures of the membership. This is part of a normal process that takes place in any democracy.
The problem is not that the government’s not allowing them to participate. The problem is that their base is not convinced that they want to support them to participate.
SHARMINI PERIES: Carlos, many analysts are saying the current situation in Venezuela is at such a crisis point, in terms of inflation, in terms of goods and services, people being able to just live, it’s so difficult that if the opposition would participate in this election, they would actually win. Give us a sense of why the exchange rates in Venezuela, there are many, are so complicated, and why there’s such a vibrant black market, which is creating such a crisis and havoc in the country.
CARLOS RON: So, there’s several factors to this and it’s complicated to put it in a brief period of time, but let me tell you. The first thing, the exchange rate is being simplified. That was one of the measures that was taken last week in order to ease that problem. But this is a historical measure that has taken place in order to prevent capital flight. We know that most of countries in Latin America that have had progressive leadership at some point have faced the threat of capital flight, and that was the reason that this had to be implemented in the first place.
Then some people found a way also to make profit off the exchange rate, and you have even a website like Dolar Today, which is run from outside of the country, inducing inflation by presenting an altered exchange rate that has no basis in actual economic transactions but just it’s a way of sabotaging the economy. Some of those issues is part of the war, the economic war that we’ve been facing and trying to get rid of it.
At the end of the day, I think it’s important to realize that the Venezuelan people have been resisting this historically, and that even then, last year when we had three electoral processes from July on, there was a lot of conviction from many Venezuelans who came out and supported… President Maduro and President Maduro’s party. That shows that people understand that we’re being victims, we’re all, Venezuelans, being victims of this economic war and that there’s a need to support the government to be able to move forward and find other solutions.
SHARMINI PERIES: Okay, Carlos. I thank you so much for joining us today.
CARLOS RON: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: We’ll be following this upcoming election, and we hope you join us again here.
CARLOS RON: Sure. Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.
By Ricardo Hausmann
In July, I described the unprecedented nature of Venezuela’s economic calamity, documenting the collapse in output, incomes, and living and health standards. Probably the single most telling statistic I cited was that the minimum wage (the wage earned by the median worker) measured in the cheapest available calorie, had declined from 52,854 calories per day in May 2012 to just 7,005 by May 2017 – not enough to feed a family of five.
Since then, conditions have deteriorated dramatically. By last month, the minimum wage had fallen to just 2,740 calories a day. And proteins are in even shorter supply. Meat of any kind is so scarce that the market price of a kilogram is equivalent to more than a week of minimum-wage work.
Health conditions have worsened as well, owing to nutritional deficiencies and the government’s decision not to supply infant formula, standard vaccines against infectious diseases, medicines for AIDS, transplant, cancer, and dialysis patients, and general hospital supplies. Since August 1, the price of a US dollar has added an extra zero, and inflation has exceeded 50% per monthsince September.
According to OPEC, oil production has declined by 16% since May, down more than 350,000 barrels a day. To arrest the decline, President Nicolás Maduro’s government has had no better idea than to arrest some 60 senior managers of the state-owned oil company PDVSA and appoint a National Guard general with no industry experience to run it.
Rather than taking steps to end the humanitarian crisis, the government is using it to entrench its political control. Rejecting offers of assistance, it is spending its resources on Chinese-made military-grade crowd-control systems to thwart public protests.
Many outside observers believe that as the economy worsens, the government will lose power. But the organized political opposition is weaker now than it was in July, despite massive international diplomatic support. Since then, the government has installed an unconstitutional Constituent Assembly with full powers, deregistered the three main opposition parties, sacked elected mayors and deputies, and stolen three elections.
With all solutions either impractical, deemed infeasible, or unacceptable, most Venezuelans are wishing for some deus ex machina to save them from this tragedy. The best scenario would be free and fair elections to choose a new government. This is Plan A for the Venezuelan opposition organized around the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, and is being sought in talks taking place in the Dominican Republic.
But it defies credulity to think that a regime that is willing to starve millions to remain in power would yield that power in free elections. In Eastern Europe in the 1940s, Stalinist regimes consolidated power despite losing elections. The fact that the Maduro government has stolen three elections in 2017 alone and has blocked the electoral participation of the parties with which it is negotiating, again despite massive international attention, suggests that success is unlikely.
A domestic military coup to restore constitutional rule is less palatable to many democratic politicians, because they fear that the soldiers may not return to their barracks afterwards. More important, Maduro’s regime already is a military dictatorship, with officers in charge of many government agencies. The senior officers of the Armed Forces are corrupt to the core, having been involved for years in smuggling, currency and procurement crimes, narco-trafficking and extra-judicial killings that, in per capita terms are three times more prevalent than in Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines. Decent senior officers have been quitting in large numbers.3
Targeted sanctions, managed by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), are hurting many of the thugs ruling Venezuela. But, measured in the tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and millions of additional Venezuelan refugees that will occur until the sanctions yield their intended effect, these measures are too slow at best. At worst, they will never work. After all, such sanctions have not led to regime change in Russia, North Korea, or Iran.
This leaves us with an international military intervention, a solution that scares most Latin American governments because of a history of aggressive actions against their sovereign interests, especially in Mexico and Central America. But these may be the wrong historical analogies. After all, Simón Bolívar gained the title of Liberator of Venezuela thanks to an 1814 invasion organized and financed by neighboring Nueva Granada (today’s Colombia). France, Belgium, and the Netherlands could not free themselves of an oppressive regime between 1940 and 1944 without international military action. 1
The implication is clear. As the Venezuelan situation becomes unimaginable, the solutions to be considered move closer to the inconceivable. The duly elected National Assembly, where the opposition holds a two-thirds majority, has been unconstitutionally stripped of power by an unconstitutionally appointed Supreme Court. And the military has used its power to suppress protests and force into exile many leaders including the Supreme Court justices elected by the National Assembly in July.
As solutions go, why not consider the following one: the National Assembly could impeach Maduro and the OFAC-sanctioned, narco-trafficking vice president, Tareck El Aissami, who has had more than $500 million in assets seized by the United States government. The Assembly could constitutionally appoint a new government, which in turn could request military assistance from a coalition of the willing, including Latin American, North American, and European countries. This force would free Venezuela, in the same way Canadians, Australians, Brits, and Americans liberated Europe in 1944-1945. Closer to home, it would be akin to the US liberating Panama from the oppression of Manuel Noriega, ushering in democracy and the fastest economic growth in Latin America.2
According to international law, none of this would require approval by the United Nations Security Council (which Russia and China might veto), because the military force would be invited by a legitimate government seeking support to uphold the country’s constitution. The existence of such an option might even boost the prospects of the ongoing negotiations in the Dominican Republic.
An imploding Venezuela is not in most countries’ national interest. And conditions there constitute a crime against humanity that must be stopped on moral grounds. The failure of Operation Market Garden in September 1944, immortalized in the book and film A Bridge Too Far, led to famine in the Netherlands in the winter of 1944-1945. Today’s Venezuelan famine is already worse. How many lives must be shattered before salvation comes?
CAMBRIDGE – The Venezuelan crisis is moving relentlessly from catastrophic to unimaginable. The level of misery, human suffering, and destruction has reached a point where the international community must rethink how it can help.
Two years ago, I warned of a coming famine in Venezuela, akin to Ukraine’s 1932-1933 Holomodor. On December 17, The New York Times published front-page photographs of this man-made disaster.