An official representative of Primero Justicia, the largest opposition party in Venezuela, told Breitbart News this week that the nation’s anti-socialist opposition is “completely united” against dictator Nicolás Maduro and “ready to assume government.”
Enrique Altimari, a London representative for Primero Justicia who rose in the party ranks organizing student opposition rallies during the wave of anti-socialist protests in 2014, told Breitbart News in a phone conversation on Thursday that the opposition-controlled National Assembly has already begun the constitutional process of appointment major government officials, including Supreme Court justices, following a referendum vote against Maduro last Sunday.
An overwhelming 98 percent of the over seven million Venezuelans who voted in that opposition-organized referendum rejected the government’s plan to replace the current constitution with a socialist-drafted and -approved document, an act Altimari described as the “biggest act of civil disobedience in the history of the continent.”
Altimari also noted that the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) – a coalition of opposition parties of which Primero Justicia is a member – would require international help to provide the humanitarian aid necessary to rebuild the country.
“The MUD has a plan, it has a strategy. The opposition is completely united in its strategy and its idea of a transitional government, and they are ready to assume government,” he noted.
The MUD within the National Assembly, he added, had already begun fulfilling the “mandate” of the referendum. The National Assembly will appoint the legitimate authorities of the state: Supreme Court justices this week and, in the future, rectors for the electoral board. This is not a process that is happening overnight; this process started three months ago and the opposition has followed all the legal steps to do this.”
Replacing the Supreme Court is both a symbolic and practical key to diminishing Maduro’s power. The current wave of protests, which have not ceased in over one hundred days, began after the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court issued a ruling nullifying the existence of the opposition-controlled National Assembly and installing itself as both the judicial and legislative branch of government. While the Supreme Court was forced to walk back that ruling, protests persisted, and the U.S. Treasury responded by sanctioning eight of its justices.
Altimari emphasized the need of a united international community in backing the National Assembly’s appointment new people on the Supreme Court and in other significant federal positions: “We need the support of the international community to actually back these appointments from the national assembly because these are the constitutional ones.”
He added that the MUD had a clear governing plan for the post-Maduro landscape. “First of all, as soon as the transition happens, we will open a channel for humanitarian aid that right now the government has closed because the government is not interested in the country having more medicine or food,” he explained. “The UN, the U.S. government, and the opposition have asked on numerous occasions to open a humanitarian channel to the Red Cross, Caritas… and the government does not allow it.”
According to Venezuela’s Pharmaceutical Federation, the nation is facing significant shortages of 85 percent of the drugs the World Health Organization (WHO) considers necessary for a functioning health care system. Venezuela also suffers shortages of basic food goods like flour, eggs, milk, and oil, which have driven 15 percent of the country to survive by eating food waste found in industrial garbage.
Humanitarian aid is necessary for a stable Venezuela, Altimari emphasized: “Venezuela has to be welcomed properly to democracy and freedom.”
The opening of a humanitarian corridor in the country is the MUD’s first and most important demand of the Maduro government, Altimari noted. “We have three requirements: the first is to open the humanitarian channel to have aid from the UN and other countries in the international community. The second is an election date for presidential, gubernatorial, and mayoral elections. The third is to free the political prisoners, with complete freedom – Leopoldo López is not free,” he emphasized.
López, the head of the Popular Will Party, was sentenced to fourteen years in prison in 2014 for organizing peaceful protests. This month, the government placed him under house arrest, taking him out of the notorious Ramo Verde military prison citing health concerns.
Freeing political prisoners is a necessary condition of free and fair elections, as many of them are incumbent public officials who were arrested for opposing the Maduro government, including the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma.
Despite the significant hurdles facing the anti-socialist opposition in Venezuela – paramount among them Maduro’s flagrant use of military violence against them – Altimari appeared confident in the opposition’s chances of establishing a free Venezuela. He noted with particular pride the peaceful nature of anti-government protests despite the relatively young age of protesters and ready availability of illegal weapons in Venezuela.
I was a student leader in 2014, I not only participated but directed protests – I’m just 25 … it is true that most of the people demonstrating are young, the front lines are organized by very young people. When you are on the front lines, you are facing a very tough reality – the National Guard is literally killing people and they are trying to defend themselves, and not through guns.
You have not had – and this is very important to state – cases of protesters shooting with guns at the military. You have not had bloodshed of military people killed. And you’re not talking about England or Australia here. Venezuela is a country with a lot of guns, with a lot of gangs, where it is really easy to have in your hand a gun and start shooting people with 95 percent impunity and the highest criminality rate [in the world].
So the fact that you are not having this kind of civil war, even on the front lines, says that even though these protesters are really angry … they are not answering with gunshots. They are not shooting to kill, the way the army has shot to kill them. They are not taking guns to demonstrations. This is not a coincidence.
According to a running tally by the Venezuelan outlet Runrunes, 116 people have died since protests began in April against the government, most very young men killed by military tear gas canisters or shootings by chavista gangs known as colectivos.
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation facilitated the interview as well as Altimari’s visit to Washington. The organization held a protest this week before Congress branded “No Che Noche,” meant to raise awareness for the dire political and humanitarian situations in Venezuela and Cuba.
Quotes have been edited for grammar and clarity.