Exclusive: Opposition Leaders on the Strange Collapse of Venezuela’s Protest Movement

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Just a few months ago, amid a worsening humanitarian crisis and the prospect of an illegal power grab, Venezuela’s anti-government protests had reached a tipping point.

In April, the opposition coalition announced daily protests against the socialist government led by Nicolás Maduro, leading to street movements unparalleled in size.

Daily marches took place to call for fresh elections and oppose the rewriting of the country’s constitution with the creation of a fraudulent lawmaking body known as the “national constituent assembly,” which usurped the power of the democratically-elected National Assembly and effectively rendered the country into a dictatorship.

The protests were typically characterized by violence, as government-controlled security forces used brutality to contain the crowds. Unarmed, peaceful protesters faced water cannons, rubber bullets, and smoke bombs. Some of the more shocking images included a 14-year-old being run over by a tank and a naked man, approaching police with a Bible, being sprayed with rubber bullets. According to the Attorney General’s office, 125 people have been killed since the protests began.

The election designed to legitimize the assembly on July 30 was boycotted by around 80 percent of people. Police killed another 16 people and arrested over 100. Maduro consequently claimed victory, falsely claiming a turnout of 41.5 percent and hailed the poll as a “vote for the revolution.” Election reports following the poll found that the government doctored the results.

Yet since Maduro has pushed forth with the assembly, the movement against him appears to have fizzled out.

Maria Corina Machado, of the center-right party Vente Venezuela, told Breitbart News that the collapse of the protests was a result of opposition leaders accepting the terms of rewriting the country’s constitution by agreeing to hold regional and gubernatorial elections, as well as failing to implement the result of a plebiscite in which people overwhelmingly rejected the creation of the assembly.

The elections are scheduled to occur on Sunday. Machado has opposed agreeing to fraudulent elections since their announcement and has stated she would not vote in them.

“The citizen’s movement that came out to the streets to protest against the Maduro dictatorship did not stop when the constituents assembly was put in place. It stopped when the political leadership decided to accept the terms of the illegitimate and fraudulent constituent assembly called for regional and gubernatorial elections,” Machado said. 

“At that point, when citizens realized that the mandate of the plebiscite that took place on July 16th had been ignored by the opposition, citizens and people felt that the fight that had cost so many lives and sacrifices had been ignored,” she added.

Another prominent Maduro opponent, former President of the U.N Security Council and Venezuelan representative at the U.N. Diego Arria, also blamed opposition parties for agreeing to participate in the upcoming gubernatorial elections, which take place on Sunday.

“The protests collapsed as soon as the opposition political parties agreed to participate in the governor’s elections and failed to implement the agreement to create a national unity government that was supported in the July 16 plebiscite by almost 8 million votes,” Arria said. “An unprecedented popular political mandate.”

Lilian Tintori, the wife of prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López, denied that the protests stopped in response to the assembly’s creation, and said that instead, Venezuelans were looking for an electoral opportunity to oppose the government.

“The protests did not stop because of the constituent assembly,” Tintori told Breitbart. “The protests lasted a long time, as Venezuelans peacefully took to the streets en masse for four months. It lasted four months because these things go in cycles, cycles of protest, cycles of fighting.” 

“Once Venezuelans saw that there was an electoral opportunity to challenge the government, the Democratic Unity decided to take this opportunity and we will fight to win this Sunday’s vote.”

Martin Rodil, President of the Venezuelan American Leadership Council, suggested that the movement’s collapse was a result of the “brutal repression” carried out by the regime, which has led to opposition leaders – including opposition leader Leopoldo López and former mayor of Carcas Antonio Ledezma – being arrested and as such failing to unify. 

“The national government obtained absolute power after the illegitimate installation of the ANC,” said Rodil. “The brutal repression of the authoritarian regime has increased the number of deaths every day, adding to the indiscriminate persecution of the leaders imposing the fear on society. This repression and persecution led the majority of the leaders to end up in exile or as prisoners of the narcoterrorist dictatorship, consolidating the power of the iron fist of the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.”

As such, many Venezuelans now feel demoralized. Gabriela Bello, a student at the Central University of Venezuela, said that, although she would like to continue coming out to protest, the opposition has failed to organize.

“We basically stopped protesting because the disappointment and anger were bigger than the support provided by the only group in which I placed my hope. When they announced the results of the constituency, the largest fraud that Venezuela has witnessed, the opposition did nothing to defend our democracy. They had more than half the country on their side and simply didn’t react. I honestly lost my confidence in the opposition,” she said.

“I would like to keep going out, but I also need a back up on the political side, and they just have not been good at it. The government has always found a way to get them behind. The reason why myself and the rest people stopped coming out of anger and disappointment, the feeling of not having the support it takes to continue fighting on the street,” she continued.

Fears of voter fraud hang over Sunday’s, with the State Department already raising concerns over a number of irregularities taking place. 

“We note with great concern that the regime will not permit the presence of independent international electoral observers,” the State Department said in a statement. “We call on the Venezuelan government to permit independent domestic observers to fully monitor the election and its tabulation of results.”

Follow Ben Kew on Facebook, Twitter at @ben_kew, or email him at bkew@breitbart.com.


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