Maduro’s dictatorship has been a tragedy for Venezuela

In the past 15 years, more than 250,000 Venezuelans have died from the violence. These figures are similar to Mexico’s in the same period, but it has more than 130 million people while Venezuela has 31 million. Venezuela has the highest homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants in South America. People are being warned of a bloodbath, but the bloodbath has been going on for years. To this tragic ledger of lives lost to social collapse and criminality we must add the victims of political repression perpetrated by organizations, like the Special Action Force, that have committed numerous human rights violations—including almost 9,000 extrajudicial executions, three times more than the number of disappeared during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Peru. This terrifying picture is completed by the presence of hundreds of Cuban nationals in the Venezuelan National Bolivarian Armed Forces, as well as members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in vast areas of our country.

At the heart of this is Maduro, who has been clinging to power blatantly by usurping the presidency since January 10. But even before that, he ignored the will of the voters in the 2015 parliamentary elections, and in 2017 he staged a coup, violating the current Venezuelan Constitution by promoting a crony, fascist and illegal Constituent Assembly stacked with his acolytes. Meanwhile, the four main democratic political parties are banned from running in presidential elections. The same goes for the opposition’s main leaders. Since January 23, 2018, more than 800 Venezuelans have been arrested, including 84 minors, and more than 40 people have been killed by the repressive bodies loyal to the dictatorship.

To overcome this situation, we in the opposition have proposed a threestep political plan aimed at restoring political institutions in Venezuela: an end to the usurpation of the presidency; the constitution of a transitional government; and calling for free, fair and transparent elections. These elections must guarantee the participation of all Venezuelans without exception—including Maduro’s own Chavistas—if we are to bring about a political reality where every party can assume its legitimate place, reflective of the will of the people. At the same time, given the desperate situation of millions of Venezuelans, we are fighting for humanitarian aid to be admitted into the country, to ensure access to medicines and food and help those in our population who suffered the most in whatever way is necessary.

In this endeavor, Venezuelans have had the support of the majority of American and European democracies. Indeed, in August 2017, most of the Latin American countries with which we share historical and cultural ties formed the Lima Group to support the effort to re-democratize Venezuela. We are grateful to them and to all those who have supported us from abroad and welcomed our diaspora and forcefully displaced Venezuelans. The same is true for the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress, whose support has been truly heartening. We are especially encouraged by the fact that this policy of diplomatic and economic pressure on Maduro’s dictatorship is bipartisan, bringing together Republicans and Democrats alike.

I’ve played a leading role in this collective effort as the National Assembly’s president since, in strict accordance with the process prescribed by our constitution, I assumed executive powers. That has involved risks to the physical safety and freedom of my family, my collaborators and myself. Many fear that the stripping of my immunity might be the final step before my own arrest. But that vote, my potential arrest or whatever might follow are not my greatest fears. I do fear that Venezuelans will continue to suffer without medicines for their children. I fear that the elderly will continue to die from malnutrition and preventable diseases. My greatest fear is that the dictatorship is allowed to continue, and with it hunger and hardships endured by millions of Venezuelans. As ever, we the opposition continue to absolutely reject a violent resolution to this situation. But as Nelson Mandela said, “It is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictates the form of the struggle.