Venezuela’s Citizens Grapple with Upcoming Election
Listen, Ladies’ host Maryalice Aymong interviews Luisa Kislinger, former diplomat and Founder and Director of the women’s NGO “Mujeres en Linea”, about the worsening of the humanitarian and economic crisis in Venezuela.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Listen, Ladies (LL) : First, I would love to provide our listeners with a kind of landscape on what is going on in Venezuela. The former UN ambassador, Samantha Powers, tweeted recently about this. She said, “What’s happening in Venezuela is flying under the radar in the US but it is incredible serious.” Can you give us, a little bit of background? This seems to have been sparked by a combination of economic and political factors and it sort of exploded into a humanitarian crisis. What context can you give us about what’s happened?
Luisa Kislinger (LK): Venezuela is going through an extremely difficult economic crisis, a crisis that this country has never seen it before. The IMF just stated that possibly for this year, 2018, we might have a 13,000% inflation rate. Some economies here consider that to be conservative. Why we reached this point, has to be explained through, the policies that the government of Venezuela started in the 2000s of taking over different industries including agriculture, food production. This is ideologically aligned with the social state that he thought that he was going to implement in the country. So to simplify, the idea was that whatever was produced here in Venezuela it will have to be in the hands of the state. I give you an example: if you want to drink milk the idea was and is, that the government would be the owner and would control and administrate the cow, the grass that the cow is going to need, the factory where the milk will be processed, and the car or the vehicle in which the milk will be transported to the vendors. There is this idea, that in the hands of the state, same for the planned economy, more similar to the Soviet Union to the moderate states. The idea was that the state would have its hands, throughout the process.
LL: So that is very different from what you mentioned, where the grass would be dealt with by one company, and the milk from a different company. You can see how if one thing goes wrong in this kind of system, the entire system could break down.
LK: There is competition, because whoever does it best, can compete and have that ability or that job and create other jobs that could benefit the community. Here the state wouldn’t have competition.
LL: It was announced that an election would be held on April 30th and that is earlier than expected. I am wondering, what is the significance of that earlier date? How have people been reacting to it? Are people going to participate, is there a sense that this is going to be a fair election?
LK: It’s a big dilemma because there are two distinct views in the society: the Venezuelan public is divided into two big categories. One is that, if you participate you are validating an illegal structure as the constitutional assembly is. You are giving in to the government’s desire to get the constitution assembly validated. The other view is that, no matter what is happening, we have to stick to the fact that they are elections. We have to protect the right to vote and we have to us the vote as an instrument to be discovered in its murky ways. So these two distinct views, obviously they are shaped in between different opinions, but these are the main two points that are being put forward. Now the question is, if it happens in April, constitutionally a new president has to take office in January 2019, so the big question is what is going to happen? Is it viable? If the opposition gets its act together and we manage to go to the polls and win, what happens if an opposition candidate wins the election but has to take office in January? It’s a long time between April and January 2019 and there are a lot of questions about the viability and whether or not that would be respected by the government or not. There are still a lot of questions to run in the electoral process and there is a name, it is called a dialogue, between the government of Venezuela and the opposition, represented by the legal national assembly, which was elected in 2015. They have been negotiating for a while now. Yesterday, there were some points that have been agreed upon and on Monday they are going to meet again and the main issues are the minimum conditions for this electoral process to be decided by this government. But it is a big question mark. It is very unpredictable.
LL: So I was wondering what you see as the potential pathways ahead right now? Do you see an ideal outcome that the opposition is hoping for? Where would you hope this ends up in maybe five years?
LK: Ideally, we would have a political change in the country. That is an ideal that we hope will happen, through this election and other elections. The fact that we have a decree posted between the assemblies does not mean the date for the election does not have to be moved. The problem is that the government has been very efficient in trying to use the mechanisms, but to void them of context. Throughout the years with Maduro in power, it is fair to say that we have been going to the polls almost every year. They rely on electoral processes to say that they are legitimate, that they are democratic. When the act for instance, last election it was known that some kind of fraud was committed. In a way they have been very efficient in using this mechanism to the point in which people say ”I am going to vote because it is the way I am going to see political change”, but it has come to a point, where people became very disappointed and very skeptical about the vote. So what is happening now, is that a lot of people are deciding not to participate because they feel as if Maduro is never going to leave office through this vote. There are people who are asking for action. When President Trump made those remarks last year a lot of people felt validated. Part of the problem is the act of voting as a mechanism or instrument for promoting democracy and for provoking a political change. We might not be able to see that change that we hope for, and the government might just stay in power for maybe another five or six years.
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