Venezuelan congresswoman Manuela Bolívar highlights the role of civil society in the fight for democracy in the country

Venezuelan congresswoman Manuela Bolívar highlights the role of civil society in the fight for democracy in the country

Venezuela has been experiencing troubled days at the beginning of this year: parliamentarians from the government have prevented oppositionists from joining in important votes in Congress; deputies are missing, thought to be kidnapped, and agents of the government’s intelligence service have made illegal searches on self-proclaimed president Juan Guaidó’s office. In addition, the country’s humanitarian crisis has worsened — the mass immigration to neighboring countries like Colombia and Brazil is a reflection of this.

In the Civic Empowerment Index launched by Humanitas360 in partnership with The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2018, the country was already identified as an authoritarian regime, including notes on “excessive force used against protesters, arbitrary arrests and one of the worst places to be a journalist.” To talk about the Venezuelan situation in the last few months, Humanitas360 interviewed the opposition congresswoman Manuela Bolívar, who has been an incisive human rights defender. She denounces the persecution of non-governmental organizations by the government — “there’s no other way to put it: the regime stole a shed with medicines for humanitarian aid” — and reaffirm the importance to struggle for the resumption of democracy in the country: “Citizenship is a vital part of each decision that is taken. Juan Guaidó is in the position he is in because in the last free and democratic elections, held in 2015, 14 million people elected this National Assembly.” Read below.

Humanitas360: In 2017, the Citizen Engagement Index made by Humanitas360 in collaboration with The Economist’s Intelligence Unit classified the Venezuelan situation as that of an authoritarian regime, due to the repression of citizens, the difficult access to essential items, arbitrary detentions, etc. How is the situation in Venezuela now? What are the prospects for this year?
Manuela Bolívar: Today Venezuela faces a totalitarian regime, a dictatorship which acts with an organized crime logic. Nevertheless, as long as there are democrats who continue to fight for freedom — as president Guaidó and those of us who accompany his cause and are still fighting for free elections and the return of democracy — they will not be able to implement it. Venezuela begins the year 2020 with Juan Guaidó rubbing shoulders with the most representative democracies in the world and with the strongest world leaders, while Nicolás Maduro cannot even leave his country, and if he leaves it is to meet with other dictators. That is the struggle for freedom and against one of the bloodiest authoritarian regimes in the region today. Besides, civil society organizations have been expanding their work and presence in spite of the persecution of the regime against them.

H360: How is the population of Venezuela reacting to the country’s crisis? Have citizen participation influenced the political direction of the country?
MB: Citizenship is a vital part of each decision that is taken. Today Juan Guaidó is in the position he is in, and the political leadership that he is, basically because in the last free and democratic elections, held in 2015, 14 million people elected this national assembly, which in two thirds is represented by democratic parties; that is the voice that carries this mandate all over the world, and the one that today cries out for free elections. We have sought to create more and wider spaces to involve social actors in the design of strategies.

H360:  What are the living conditions of the population today?
MB: The “Complex Humanitarian Emergency” continues and deepens. United Nations and Organisation of American States numbers do not lie, the [Michelle] Bachellet report does not lie: the living conditions of the Venezuelan are very precarious and overwhelming unequal. While a small elite has made theirs hundreds of millions of dollars — result of the corruption and the theft of the nation’s assets — thousands of people have to flee across our borders to many countries day by day because they could not continue living In our country. Colombia received more than one million migrants, the number of migrants is estimated at more than five million. Ours is the largest immigration crisis in the world, along with Syria, that is in a war, we are not in one. Venezuela’s humanitarian drama is very big. Another aspect of the emergency is the differentiated impact it has on vulnerable populations, such as women, children, adolescents and the elderly, whose rights and well-being are in decline.

H360: What is Juan Guaidó’s current situation? Does the population support him?
MB: Yes, go to any street or any meeting in which Juan Guaidó is and you can see that he is the most supported political leader. Nevertheless, he is the undisputed leader of the democratic movement. And undoubtedly we must also talk about the National Assembly and the work of each of its deputies, since this is not a task for our president in charge to bear alone.

H360: Have access to humanitarian aid in the country improved? And the relationship with other Latin American countries, especially Brazil?
MB: Non-governmental organizations implementing humanitarian aid that today make life possible in our country are subject to persecution and harassment of the regime. In January 22, the organization “Rescate Venezuela”, which has been one of the great articulators of humanitarian aid delivery in the country, announced that the regime stole — since there’s no other way to put it — it stole a shed where a lot of medicines destined for humanitarian aid was stored. The same happened to “Mavid”, from which the regime illegally subtracted formulas for children with mothers living with HIV, or the case of “Prepara Familia”, in January, when the regime’s security forces entered its collection center. Our humanitarian aid efforts are also part of a fight against a regime that wants to monopolize and profit from the application and programs of international agencies to obtain political credit and strengthen social control mechanisms. In relation to Brazil, the government of Jair Bolsonaro set out the “welcome” operation, a very interesting, very organized effort to try to help the migrant population that is going there. Each one of us is grateful to the countries around the world that have welcomed migrants and refugees, our call is to seek all available mechanisms to guarantee the rights of the entire population that has had to flee their country.