Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed leader of the Voluntad Popular opposition party, said in an interview with the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio that he had rejected a proposal made to him last year by Maduro: that he leave the country.
Lopez made the statement in response to questions sent to him by the newspaper. The article, published in today’s edition of El Mercurio, can be found here. Below, my translation of the interview (bolding mine):
What do you think was Nicolas Maduro’s intention in offering the United States to exchange your release for that of Oscar Lopez Rivera?
I don’t know what his intentions are, but it’s clear that it’s becoming more difficult each day for him to hold me in this unjust and arbitrary manner. Venezuelans – and the whole world – know that we are innocent, as well as that of many compatriots who are also under arrest for political reasons. Recent polls show that 80% of Venezuelans believe that we are innocent, and the most important human rights organizations have spoken about our case, demanded my freedom and that of all political prisoners in Venezuela.
Now, Maduro’s proposal is clear evidence that we are political prisoners and that he controls the whole of the judicial process against me, and is evidence of a proposal he made me a year ago: that I leave Venezuela. That will never happen.
Do you think the President was serious when he said that?
In our country, institutions have been lost, kidnapped by a corrupt, inefficient and anti-democratic elite. That loss manifests itself in many ways, one being that the people no long know when those in power are joking or when they are being serious.
This same dynamic is the one that drives the most difficult problems faced by our people, like insecurity, scarcity and the high cost of living.
How do you see the Venezuelan government in the year 2015, when chavismo will have to lead with oil near $60 per barrel?
At the time of me writing this response, the price of a barrel of Venezuelan oil is $47. In my year-end message to Venezuelans, I made reference to the difficult social, political and economic situation that we would face in 2015. 2014 ended with inflation figures near 70% and with scarcity levels near 30%. This is how the year begins.
Today, the matter of scarcity is particularly grave. Venezuelans, without any distinction between social class or ideological preference, are forced to line up under sun and rain to find the most basic products. It’s outrageous to see mothers with children in their arms begging for a pack of diapers. Sometimes, the lines are useless because you can’t find what you’re looking for, and if you do find it, it’s rationed to one or two packs per mother. The same goes for sanitary pads and medicine, where the scarcity level nears the 70% mark according to the pharmaceutical union along with food such as chicken, eggs, cooking oil, coffee, home cleaning and personal hygiene products.
Despite this situation, my invitation to all Venezuelans is to see opportunity in this adversity. An opportunity for change. The first step is to find a common cause to share between all of us, or at least a great majority of Venezuelans.
I am convinced that this common cause is the right to exercise the rights which belong to us all. If our rights and their safeguarding were the priority of the Venezuelan state, we would be living in a democratic, prosperous country today, full of opportunity. Between the Venezuela we want and the Venezuela of today there is an obstacle: an group of corrupt and repressive elites of no more than 100 people who have kidnapped our institutions and put an end to the rule of law, and replaced it with a rule of criminals. Change depends on our ability to organize ourselves, unite, and mobilize politically.
Your wife and the opposition have denounced a number of irregularities in your trial. What are you hoping will happen?
The government’s attempt to take me out of the picture is not new. President Chavez barred me from holding office me six years ago in 2008 when I was about to be elected mayor of Caracas, and now in 2014 when that order is about to expire, Maduro ordered my arrest. It’s been 10 years of constant persecution that has manifested itself in dozens of cases before the state, three homicide attempts which were never resolved, two orders barring me from holding office that remained in place even though the Interamerican Court of Human Rights ruled in my favour, and now this arrest and an absurd, unjust trial against my speech and my ideas.
The reason for this persecution can be summed up in one word: fear. Fear of our ideas for change, fear of a voice and a different proposal from that of the failed, erroneously-called socialism of the 21st century.
What do I hope will happen? Of course, I want to be freed. As I’ve said many times before, I haven’t set any timetables. I know I will be free. One of the first books I read when I got to Ramo Verde was the experience of a Vietnamese cardinal named Van Thuan, who was arrested by the communist regime after being accused of being part of a “conspiracy between the Vatican and the imperialists to organize a fight against the communist government”. He was summoned to the Presidential Palace were he was arrested on August 15, 1975. He was persecuted and incarcerated for 10 years. The cardinal talked about how the prisoner’s primary frustration is thinking every day that he’s about to be released, and when that doesn’t happen he feels disappointed. Facing his reality, he talked about how he found strength and stability on the one hand in his relationship with God, and on the other by living each day to the fullest, preparing himself more and more.
I know that I will be freed, and when I am I will be stronger spiritually, mentally and physically. I will be released, stronger and without resentfulness. Hate and bitterness are what have bogged our country down. We will continue forward with our dream, none other than reaching a better Venezuela, a Venezuela of peace, well-being and progress.
You and other sectors of the opposition have said that in Venezuela there is no separation of powers, that the justice system operates beneath the executive. If this is true, then why did you surrender to the authorities in February 18 when they accused you of causing the protests that started on February 12?
I’m under arrest because of a decision made by a dictatorship. A decision Maduro and his accomplices, who threatened to throw me in jail no fewer than 20 times on national television since 2013. When the order to arrest me came, I had three options: flee the country (which I never considered), go into hiding or hand myself over to the unjust justice. I chose the third option.
Before the injustice, the abuses and violations against rights, a reaction comes. Injustice must be fought. Injustice must be faced head on without any tricks.
I’ve always believed in facing injustice head on. That’s what I did when I was barred from holding office, and even though it was in place for seven years and it stopped me from running in 2008, 2010 and 2012, I was able to prove my innocence and that my rights had been violated before the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, which ruled in my favour in September 2011. For me, that was a political and moral victory, since it demonstrated the arbitrary nature of the regime and the fear that it feels, which is the true reason why they’ve harassed me for more than a decade.
Handing myself over to an unjust justice has given me a new opportunity to face the lies, the abuse of power and the necessity to change the system. A leader must be able to inspire those that, like him, pursue a dream, because – due to the difficult circumstances Venezuelans live – I’ve learned that political games aren’t enough and that I had to take a risk in the name of liberty in Venezuela.
And now there is no doubt, either in Venezuela or in the world, that there is an group of corrupt, inefficient and anti-democratic elites who have looted the country and who violate human rights. We’ve grabbed the world’s attention and gained the support of the most important human rights organizations, like the United Nations and Amnesty International. We’ve informed hundreds of world leaders not only about our case, but more importantly about the situation our people are living through. And we gain more support each day.
The day I turned myself in I said that if my arrest would wake people up, then it was worth it. Today, I believe that millions of Venezuelans around the world fully understand what we’re facing, and that is a fundamental stage in achieving change.
What can the Chilean government do to help the situation in Venezuela?
[This last answer is cut off, and is difficult to read. Leopoldo asks the Chilean government to continue to advocate for human rights around the world].
Maduro Continues Tour
While in Saudi Arabia, Minister of the Economy Rodolfo Torres tweeted:
Excellent meeting with important results. We’ve agreed to work to recover the market and price of oil.
The minister did not provide any details about what the “important results” mentioned in his tweet were.
Later in the day, Maduro also spoke on the meeting, and was equally vague about its result:
We talked a lot about important ideas about a strategy to stabilize the oil market and to recover the oil prices. We’re going to co-ordinate on an important strategy. I leave [Saudi Arabia] with a lot of optimism.
He provided no concrete details about the alleged agreement between the two countries.
Maduro also accused the opposition of mounting an “ambush”, and called for calm during the country’s worst scarcity crisis in recent history:
I call on everyone to be conscientious, patient and to collaborate. The government has been beside the people during the start of this year, when the parasitic oligarchy mounted an ambush against us, but we’re responding so that the people can enjoy their right to food and peace, which is the most important thing.
Below, a picture of Maduro speaking with the Saudi Arabian Minister of Oil, Ali Al-Naimi:
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