As Venezuelan politicians continue to spar over the question of elections in a country rocked by a flood of opposing marches and high-running political tensions, a top socialist lawmaker accused the right-wing opposition of avoiding elections — despite claiming to be fighting to defend democracy in repeated and sometimes violent protests — because a democratic route out of the crisis “doesn’t suit them” and their interests.
“Through the electoral path they wouldn’t be able to do what they want to do in this country,” said lawmaker and vice president of President Nicolas Maduro’s PSUV party Diosdado Cabello in a press conference in Caracas Monday, adding that the opposition has its eyes on “dissolving” four of Venezuela’s five branches of government — the legislative branch or National Assembly, the judiciary, the electoral branch and the so-called citizen’s branch — in order to leave only the executive power of the president.
“That’s why what suits them is a coup d’etat, not the electoral path,” said Cabello.
The opposition, which has taken to the streets in almost-daily demonstrations in the capital city for the past three weeks, often provoking instances of violence, has called for Maduro’s removal for office, pressing for the presidential elections scheduled for 2018 to happen sooner. Opposition supporters, including Brazilian President Michel Temer and Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro, have argued that fresh elections are the only way out of the crisis.
But the government has repeatedly accused the opposition of dodging democratic channels and instead relying on violent destabilization to force Maduro out of office.
Maduro recently proclaimed that he says “yes to elections,” suggesting that given the option the opposition would “run away” from the challenge of facing off against socialist candidates.
But Cabello said Monday that the presidential elections will take place in 2018 as planned, adding that “there is no way” to move up the schedule and that the government is “not going to violate the constitution to please the opposition.”
Cabello, former vice president and former speaker of the National Assembly, accused the fragmented opposition of being poorly prepared for an election scenario and “deceiving” its supporters.
“They’re not ready to go to elections,” he said.
Cracks in the opposition coalition known as the MUD, the Spanish acronym for Democratic Unity Roundtable, were laid bare late last year during talks with the government. While the leadership of the MUD engaged in dialogue sessions with the Maduro administration, other factions of the coalition repeatedly boycotted the process as conflicting positions on the talks abounded among leaders of the 15 parties making up the MUD.
Despite the weight of the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, the opposition has largely failed to put forward concrete proposals — aside from its limited demand to see Maduro removed from office.
Nevertheless, Cabello argued that one of the top items on the opposition’s agenda would be to privatize the country’s state-owned oil and gas company Petroleos de Venezuela, also known as PDVSA, and claw back the international agreements Maduro has signed.
Venezuela nationalized its oil industry in the 1970s, but the sector was effectively largely re-privatized in the 1990s through a slew of operative service agreements with private companies. Under the banner of anti-imperialism and 21st Century Socialism championed by late President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela sought to reverse the privatization process and put the country’s oil industry back into public hands to serve the well being of the Venezuelan people, not the corporate interest of multinational oil giants. The government launched a process in 2007 to retake majority stakes in most oil projects.
Privatizing the oil and gas sector would mark a major reversal of more than a decade of socialist government policies, as oil revenues — hard hit by the global price slump — have funded social programs under the Chavez and Maduro administrations.
Meanwhile, opposition protests and pro-government marches are set to continue in the coming days, including on International Workers’ Day on May 1, when both sides of the political spectrum have called their supporters to the streets for opposing demonstrations.
Cabello argued that the pro-government May Day marches will mark “the largest mobilization of workers for the homeland in the history of the country.”