The government of Nicolás Maduro is preparing to close the circle of power on December 6th. The bulk of the international community says that there are no minimum conditions for a free and fair election. But that doesn’t trouble Venezuela’s civic-military regime, as long as it has the support of the army and repressive apparatus.
On the opposite side of the street, the president in charge, Juan Guaidó, develops his policy on three parallel fronts: a rejection of the December election, which has an essential political consensus in the opposition. The second front is the support for the growing sectorial street protests. The third is maintaining a high level of readiness for dialogue and negotiation to facilitate the transition to democracy.
Guaidó proposes that both he and Maduro should step aside to set up a transitional government of national unity, formed by five members, whose mission is to call free, fair and verifiable elections as soon as possible.
In this exclusive interview, Guaidó outlines some neuralgic points of his policy and does not spare any adjectives to condemn those who have been accused of crimes against humanity.
José Zepeda: Mr. President in charge, the United Nations Human Rights Report points out the highest authorities as responsible. But, I have the impression that they will not be called upon by the International Criminal Court for the time being. How do you see the international community acting in this crisis?
Juan Guaidó: This is the first time in Latin American history that an acting regime and dictator is pointed out as a human rights violator, as a criminal against humanity. Not even in the darkest moments of the Argentinean and even the Chilean dictatorship did something similar happen. The trials and convictions followed the democratic transition.
The pandemic has shown that interdependence in the world, as a society, is undeniable. So what is at issue in the international community are the mechanisms that exist to deal with crises of this magnitude. I am referring to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, TIAR, the Inter-American Charter of Human Rights, among other things. We must ask ourselves how appropriate the pressure measures and sanctions are for the defense of values, fundamental rights, the siege of corruption. Venezuela has more than five million refugees in the region. It is a tragedy in search of an answer.
We had to get to the United Nations Independent International Mission's report to establish what we already knew.
We have a complex humanitarian emergency. We had to get to the United Nations Independent International Mission’s report to establish what we already knew, what we’ve been denouncing for many years, and what we suffered in our own flesh. I say this even for my family. I have an uncle who was in a torture center. The ignominy has led to the naming of the cells and the torture.
For example, The Crucifixion (arms extended and handcuffed to tubes or bars), and The Octopus (a metal belt with chains to immobilize the wrists and ankles). Of course, the use of electric shocks on the genitals. There are testimonies of pregnant women who were beaten and even lost their children (the cells are called 'the madhouse,’ 'the elevator,’ 'the submarine,’ 'the tigrito,’ 'the bañito'...).
I believe that the challenge is not only to describe the catastrophe but also to look for alternative solutions to the conflict.
We don't want any type of revenge. What guides us is real alternatives, going through a transition, and conducting truly free elections.
The challenge is to evaluate the tools of the free world to support Venezuelans because if there is one thing that the U.N report reflects, it is the living testimony of a society that does not surrender, that demands its rights, and that seeks ways to resolve the conflict peacefully. In short, what we want is something as fundamental as justice.
The best alternative is to maintain the international community aligned by exerting pressure, and in Venezuela, mobilization with alternative solutions.
We don't want any type of revenge. What guides us is real alternatives, going through a transition, and conduction truly free elections.
JZ: On December 6, the government is going to hold elections by any means necessary. How are things at the moment?
JG: We all want to vote. We want to choose and participate. That’s the truth. Today in Venezuela, what the dictatorship presents is unfortunately not an election. It doesn’t meet one iota of conditions for a fair event. On the contrary, the regime intends to accentuate, pay for the tragedy, for more isolation, for less confidence, for less investment in Venezuela, for less creation of jobs, for imminent environmental disasters.
I guarantee that it isn’t a group or sector, no, all Venezuelans want to vote, choose, define our future. And that is precisely the struggle, to explain that what’ll occur in December is not an election. It’s a fraud sung, as perceived by the European Union, as stated by the OAS, as affirmed by our allies.
JZ: What do the political parties say?
JG: There is a unanimous agreement at this time. The only dissenting voice at the time was that of Henrique Capriles, who recently declared that there are no conditions for participating in this fraud. That is to say, we have more unity today than we had a week ago.
JZ: Should I think, then, that the call for government elections has paradoxically served to bring the people of the opposition closer together?
JG: We are even more united. The dictatorship has been very clumsy in that sense. It’s alone, isolated, and its best ally today is an expensive gasoline supplier. Iran is not a comrade, not even ideologically. The Iranian view of communism is very different from what Maduro’s dictatorship proposes.
The whole world points to the Venezuelan government for what it is, a criminal against humanity. That’s why we are united in rejecting fraud, in demanding a solution through free, fair, and verifiable presidential and parliamentary elections.
We have a mechanism for the lifting of all sanctions in Venezuela, which goes through the transition by an independent electoral arbiter, so that it’s not persecuted in Venezuela, to respect freedom of expression, to call presidential and parliamentary elections.
Of course, we cannot, at any time, leave aside our people whose suffering is profound: the humanitarian emergency, the pandemic, the pain, the remoteness, the helplessness. A school teacher, for God's sake, earns a dollar a month.
Today, 67 protests were registered in Venezuela, not only by teachers but also by nurses and doctors. The dictatorship does the impossible to make them invisible, but there’s the demand of people who don’t want to surrender, who oppose silence.
We haven’t put on the table any references to sanctions in the Norwegian mediation. We have a mechanism for the lifting of all sanctions in Venezuela, which goes through the transition by an independent electoral arbiter. It’s not persecuted in Venezuela, to respect freedom of expression, to call presidential and parliamentary elections. And here, those sanctions are the fault of the corrupted human rights violators. In the face of a transition, we would regain confidence in Venezuela.
JZ: Two final points on the subject of elections. One possible scenario: there are elections on December 6. Due to the lack of participants, the officialdom wins by an overwhelming majority. The Maduro government installs a new National Assembly. This scenario deprives the opposition of the only element it still had in its hands, with which the Maduro regime closes the circle of the total conquest of power. Please tell me I’m wrong.
JG: Look, the international community has said that it doesn’t recognize this fraud proposed by the dictatorship.
JZ: That's what the European Union said.
JG: Yes, the dictatorship’s objective is stated in the report generated by the UN Independent Commission. It says something that is revealing and that we should not lose sight of. The objective is to deprive Venezuela of a democratic alternative and to annihilate all the moral, social, political, and physical conditions of the detractors. There are testimonies of persecution, torture, prison, and political assassination.
The dictatorship doesn’t recognize the Parliament that I preside over, which is recognized by 60 nations in the world. They recognize a man named Luis Parra, who appeared a few days ago in a video receiving bribes from the dictatorship to break the National Parliament. They have something they call the National Constituent Assembly, which they’ve already said was not to make a new constitution. It’s to persecute, evidently.
For our part, we’ll continue to be supported at the international level, but we’ll still be persecuted. That’ll be the result in reality. In fact, the dictatorship will have one more argument, one more excuse to persecute us.
On the other hand, they’re exposed again. Look at how it turned out on May 20, 2018 (the date Maduro was re-elected as president). Very badly, politically, internationally, and diplomatically speaking. It took us until January 2019 to explain to the world what was happening. Finally, it was recognized as a fraud, as a ruse of the regime.
JZ: One last aspect on the elections. I suppose that if fair, transparent, and democratic elections are held, the couple of million of your compatriots who live outside of Venezuela will have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
JG: One of the keys to a free, fair, and verifiable election is precisely the right to choose and be elected. What does this mean? Simply, that, it’s not the dictatorship that elects our candidates with disqualifications, persecutions, forced exile, torture, is that Venezuelans, wherever they are, will have the right precisely to participate and vote.
JZ: When you were sworn in as president-in-charge on January 23, 2019, you marked an important milestone because that was followed by significant international recognition. Do you feel that time has passed in favor of the regime and that this weakens Juan Guaidó’s presence?
JG: Time is running out against Venezuelans. Looking at it in perspective, almost 19 months after that constitutional political action derived in the recognition and democratic innovation to face a dictatorship, we see that it has been a long process, painful for all. It’s not only two years. It’s also everything we’ve suffered.
There is a temptation. I must say it out loud: that the world’s countries get used to living with the dictator. That would be unfortunate.
But the truth is that time is not in Maduro's favor. Maduro is usurping functions once again. He doesn't have a country that recognizes him, nor an additional loan. He doesn't have a way to solve the fuel crisis. He can't even put gasoline in a vehicle in Venezuela, nor can he move the crop that our farmers sow.
That is the stark truth.
In Venezuela, neither does Guaidó’s government in charge win, because Maduro is still there. That is our variable of success. To achieve the transition while we attend to the emergency. While we resist. So, I can tell you that as long as Maduro prevails, all of Venezuela loses. The only possibility of winning for the nation and the region is through a democratic transition.
There’s a temptation. I must say it out loud: let the world’s countries get used to living with the dictator. We’ve seen it in other nations, in other regions. That’d be unfortunate.
JZ: There was, not many years ago, a time when the Venezuelan government had money to give away. Today, Venezuela doesn’t produce oil. Where does the money that the government handles come from?
JG: First, briefly, some indicators: 75% contraction of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is, a destruction of the economy. Inflation is counted in millions. Purchasing power doesn't exist. According to the United Nations, less than $1.90 a day is extreme poverty. And here, we have two dollars a month minimum wage, because of corruption, because of inefficiency. They invested 300 billion dollars in the Venezuelan oil industry and bankrupted it. Venezuela was the fourth country in the world that has invested more in its oil industry in the last 12 years. If I am not mistaken, the first is the United States, then Russia, followed by Saudi Arabia. Those countries doubled their oil production in the same investment period. Venezuela went from almost three million barrels a day to 300,000. What happened to the money? It was stolen.
What does the dictatorship live on today? From an almost parallel economy, from the gold extracted from the south of Venezuela, which we can classify as blood gold, in a parallelism with what was the diamond conflict in East Africa. It has the same characteristics: financing of irregular groups, human trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering, ecocide, ethnocide with the displacement of more than twenty indigenous communities in the mining arc.
This is what the dictatorship lives on, and the approximately 300,000 barrels of oil that it can still extract.
JZ: When you live a reality like the Venezuelan one, the first thing you lose is the truth. And when the truth is lost, what emerges is gossip, comments, some real things, other half-lies, and half-truths. One of those famous gossips assures that there are confidential conversations between Guaidó and the government. Obviously, I'm not asking you to give me details, but is that true?
JG: There are no conversations at this time. There aren’t because the dictatorship has used these mechanisms to mock any type of resolution.
I agree 100% with the expression that one of the first victims in a dictatorship is the truth and language use. Today, in Venezuela, talking about negotiation or dialogue is frowned upon. It’s the queen of conflict-resolution mechanisms, but the dictatorship has manipulated the concept so much, it has disrupted it in such a way that today it looks bad to discuss negotiation.
But, we’ve never denied that possibility. We even were at the mediation in Norway. Unfortunately, the dictatorship got up from the table and ran away, making excuses about the sanctions. We presented an alternative, but there was no case. We’re going to be present for any conflict-resolution mechanism.
We avoid using the word negotiation or dialogue so that we aren’t misunderstood at home. But today, the support for negotiation is evident. Europe, the United States, the OAS, Colombia, Brazil, South Korea, and Japan have all said so. Free presidential and parliamentary elections, with guarantees for all sectors that wish to participate in this process.
JZ: Does the result of the upcoming U.S. election have any significance for your political vision?
JG: The United States will decide in a sovereign way what it wants. I must thank the administration of President Donald Trump for the support we’ve received, a support that is bipartisan. We have a remarkable relationship in the Senate. And additionally, I must say, Maduro not only has a problem with the White House, with the Senate, he also has a problem with an independent power, which is the Judiciary, due to a criminal lawsuit for drug trafficking and terrorism.
I'm sure that today no one is comfortable with having a drug dealer as a neighbor, much less a criminal against humanity, or someone who has denigrated the human condition to such a great extent.
Imagine the desperation you have to feel to prefer leaving your house, turn everything off, grab a bag with whatever you find on hand, take your child in your arms and go, walking thousands of miles. How immense must be the despair that someone suffers to prefer that to staying one more day, fighting. That’s why I call on the world’s reflection to see how authoritarianism acts with such agility, with propaganda apparatuses that are always awake. Democracies sometimes go, in that sense, a step backward.
JZ: The main victims of this political, social, and economic crisis are the Venezuelan people. It seems that many have lost the horizon of the future and are hopeless. They only think about survival. How can these people, this majority, be given back hope in ‘another’ Venezuela?
JG: Well, I have good news for you, José. Right now, there are hundreds of people on the street protesting. This speaks of human dignity, resistance and tolerance, not of evil. On the contrary, of holding on to think about the future.
Surviving in Venezuela is a full-time job.
The best lesson is being taught by Venezuelan teachers who earn the unsettling amount of two dollars a month, after years of study, postgraduate degrees, and training. There they are protesting, not only for their labor demands but also for our children’s future, for education.
Now, one point is certain: surviving in Venezuela is a full-time job. Putting gas in the vehicle is a mission—hours of waiting. Crops are lost in the field because they cannot be moved to a territory in need. As the World Food Program said, Venezuela is among the five countries at risk of famine, along with Southern Sudan, Afghanistan, and Congo… One-third of our children suffer from chronic malnutrition. That doesn't happen in a day. It doesn't happen in a year, not even in two years. It’s the product of a model that’s destroying Venezuela.
Indeed, there are many who think that the way out is to emigrate. I understand this. But the best way out is to resist, to fight despite the difficulties. It's excruciating because not only do we lack gasoline, we don't even have enough to eat.
But we presented a plan for our country. The economic recovery is possible in Venezuela, as it’s feasible to generate employment and create the conditions to embrace our families’ return.
Therein lies our hope for tomorrow.