At the risk of losing international credibility, the opposition coalition in Venezuela must act quickly to elect a new leader of the Congress, said former Colombian president Andres Pastrana, speaking in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. He said a clear message needs to be sent that the opposition is united and won’t be distracted by internal differences.
“If they start talking about ‘how are we going to elect the next president, who is it going to be, what are going to be the rules,’ I think that’s the wrong message,” said Pastrana. “Because outside of Venezuela people think the opposition is not united.”
Pastrana helped lead a group of former presidents in Latin American in overseeing the Dec. 6 election on behalf of the opposition. He joined another leader, former Bolivian president Jorge Quiroga, at the Council of Americas in Washington to discuss the work of their group, Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas (IDEA), and the implications of the historic election.
Venezuela’s political opposition, the United Democratic Roundtable, won control of the Venezuelan Congress on Dec. 6. The overwhelming margin – winning 112 of the 167 seats in Congress – will give the opposition power to potentially overturn decisions made by the government of current President Nicolás Maduro.
Outside of Venezuelan people think the opposition is not united.
Andres Pastrana, former president of Colombia
Quiroga likened the opposition victory to reaching the snow line during a mountain expedition. The summit may be in sight, he said, but the toughest stretch was ahead.
“Now comes the hard part,” Quiroga said.
Venezuela has had a tough year. It is dealing with food shortages, lack of medicine, rapid inflation, increasing violence and dropping oil prices.
While the opposition victory can be seen as a step forward, Hector Schamis, adjunct professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, said the problems are likely to get worse before they get better.
“If anything, this is the paradox of democracy at a time of crisis,” Schamis said. “The moment you celebrate, like that night in Caracas, is the time when you have to start worrying.”
Pastrana and Quiroga, along with other ex-presidents, have been advocating for more democracy in Venezuela. Before the April Summit of the Americas in Panama City, 25 former presidents from Latin America condemned the Venezuelan government for political persecution and demanded that jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López be released along with other jailed politicians.
Pastrana pressed the opposition leaders to focus on the “humanitarian crisis,” which he described as one of the worst in the western hemisphere. He said Venezuela, rich in oil resources, should not count on other countries to step in to help.
We now need, not former presidents, but current presidents to raise their voice and show leadership.
Moises Naim, a former Venezuelan trade minister and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
“People outside of Venezuela will say ‘it is such a rich country,’” Pastrana said. “ ‘They don’t have money?’ I don’t think so.”
Moises Naim, a former Venezuelan trade minister and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, complimented the ex-presidents for their advocacy work, but questioned what he called the “silence” of other Latin American leaders on Venezuela.
He said more current election officials must speak out against the Maduro regime. He called for a “cartel of the decents” or coalition of decent leaders of Latin America.
“I want the decent leaders of Latin American and elsewhere to raise their voices and act…,” Naim said. “We now need, not former presidents, but current presidents to raise their voices and show leadership.”