Opposition politician Henry Ramos Allup presides over Venezuela’s single-chamber legislature as Speaker since January 5.
Ramos Allup, who is 72 years old, is an old fox of Venezuelan politics. A four-term congressman, he does not mince words. He assured that the opposition, which now has an absolute majority in the National Assembly, will continue to seek a democratic path to oust President Nicolás Maduro.
He spoke with the PanAm Post about the future of Venezuela.
What is your assessment of your first month as Speaker of Venezuela’s National Assembly?
Since the day we were sworn in, we began working on what we had promised during the campaign. We set out to rescue the legislature’s autonomy, which it had lost during the last 17 years. That meant openly and publicly discussing all issues that affect Venezuela, as well as legislating and controlling the other branches of the state. Those are the faculties that the Constitution grants us.
[adrotate group=”7″]I believe that one of our greatest achievements was to open the National Assembly again to all media, both local and foreign, the printed press and radio stations. We are also auditing the legislature’s goods, personnel, and finances because we stumbled upon a true “black box” here.
We are working amid fierce harassment from the executive and permanent ambushes by the Supreme Court, which is an embarrassment in its current state.
In your inauguration speech, you said the Maduro administration had six months left in power. What constitutional mechanisms will opposition lawmakers use to make this happen?
There are several paths, but I still can’t say which one we will follow. From all the constitutional possibilities, some depend on the president himself, like resignation. But we rule that out, even though we have information that, within the administration, some military and civilian groups are already considering it. It’s not something the opposition made up.
We could also resort to a constitutional amendment, a referendum [to revoke his term], or call for a constitutional assembly. We will decide which one of these mechanisms is the most efficient and least complicated from an institutional point of view.
What about the amendment to the constitution to eliminate presidential reelections?
One of the amendment proposals is indeed to absolutely prohibit the reelection of presidents. Some members of the opposition even accused me of hurrying things when I said we should find a solution in six months.
Fortunately, they have come around, and now they’re saying that it’s too long, given the worsening economic crisis in Venezuela.
How can you convince Venezuelans that solving the crisis is not only in the hands of the National Assembly and that a recovery will take time?
That line of reasoning is a rhetorical trick created by this irresponsible administration. They say the people will turn against us because we haven’t solved the problem of cues outside stores.
The Maduro administration tends to think that Venezuelans are stupid, but in all the polls we conduct, even Chavistas know that the legislature is not going to make cues of shoppers disappear, improve agricultural output, or magically put food on shelves.
Even grass-root Chavismo is aware that we have to find a way out of this situation, that we need another administration that tackles the problems that Maduro not only hasn’t solved, but continues to worsen every day.
What did you find at the legislature’s offices when you became Speaker?
I wish you could come to the Assembly and ask the staff yourself. I have just had a meeting with Human Resources, and the payroll here comprises around 4,200 people, an exorbitant number. There are 750 staffers whose whereabouts no one knows, who are getting paid even though they don’t work. And then we have 350 people on sick leave.
If Maduro steps down, I think that history will thank him more than if he clings to power
For instance, in the Speaker’s office, I pay for the coffee, bottled water, and breakfast for work-related events out of my own pocket. They haven’t even left us with soap to clean the dishes. This is a recurring situation in all the Assembly’s offices.
Do you think Maduro is being pressured into remaining in power?
Sometimes I think that Nicolás Maduro wants to change course, but he can’t. Every time he sets out to correct something that does not suit his cronies in power, they begin claiming that the president is betraying the memory of Hugo Chávez, the supreme principles of the Constitution, and the like.
The truth is that the Maduro administration cannot take action because of all these ties. It is too weak, and that’s why I say Maduro is in a tragic dilemma: he loses whether he changes course or not.
What would you advise the president to do?
I would tell him that history sometimes demands certain actions, and it’s better to walk out the front door than the back door. A way to positively contribute to solving the crisis is by resigning.
If Maduro steps down, I think that history will thank him more than if he clings to power. After all, there is not much he can do with his power. Even if he does, it won’t solve anything.
But if he does not resign — I believe his cronies won’t let him — then we will have to make use of one of the mechanisms defined by the Constitution.
Will the Assembly look into the corruption scandals?
Of course. The Comptroller Commission has full autonomy to investigate all complaints. But due to the sheer amount of cases, I have asked my colleagues to begin with the most pressing.
For instance, investigating all the money — in dollars — that went to the wrong hands [due to currency controls] is more important than investigating embezzlement during the construction of a city’s aqueduct. The Commission will have to be very firm and focus on the most serious cases, not just money-wise but also taking all repercussions and consequences into account.
How do you deal with powerful Chavista congressmen like Diosdado Cabello, Cilia Flores or Elías Jaua?
In the Assembly, they are congressmen, pure and simple. If they have to be investigated, they will be, just like any other citizen. The fact that they have immunity as congressmen doesn’t mean they cannot be investigated. It’s a legal privilege that can be revoked.
If any congressman here must face justice for any crimes, he will be stripped of his immunity. No doubt about it.