María Corina Machado, the Venezuelan opposition leader recently dismissed as a congresswoman in the country’s National Assembly, spoke yesterday before the Brazilian Senate.
Her presentation is well worth watching in its entirety for two reasons. First, the time and place of her speech is particularly significant. Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy, and it is consolidating its position as the region’s most powerful diplomatic force.
All that force is no longer as unconditionally supportive of Chavismo as it used to be when El Comandante was still among us mortals, before he became the “Supreme and Eternal Commander of the Bolivarian Revolution.”
President Dilma Rouseff is subtly changing her views toward the Maduro regime, and not only because of its increasingly flagrant human rights violations. It is also because of a huge pile of dirty, imperialist US dollars that the regime owes Brazilian companies operating in Venezuela, amounting to 2.5 billion greenbacks.
Second, Machado’s speech was one of the most articulate presentations of the views and grievances held by the majority of the political opponents of the Maduro regime.
So again, do invest 15 minutes to watch the whole video. But in any case, here’s a summary of the key points of her speech, divided by subject areas:
The Controversy and Legitimacy of Last Year’s Elections
- While Maduro won the presidential elections of April of 2013 by 200,000 votes, the opposition documented 1.5 million instances of irregularities in the voting process. These irregularities were the basis for the opposition’s claim that a recount of the votes was necessary, and they voiced this concern in a UNASUR summit held on April 19 last year. Maduro accepted the call to proceed with the recount in front of the UNASUR delegates, but failed to comply with his commitment.
- The claims of irregularities during the presidential elections were presented to the Supreme Court, but it refused to address them.
Functioning of the General Assembly
- Chavistas have forcibly terminated all presidential and vice-presidential posts in the National Assembly that belonged to the opposition.
- Not a single one of the hundreds of opposition requests for corruption investigations presented to the relevant National Assembly commissions has been taken into account.
- She reminded her audience that she was brutally beaten by a Chavista member of the National Assembly during a plenary session on April 30 of last year, and she suffered five facial fractures. Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, was smiling at her while it happened, and the cameras of the state media covering the plenary session were pointing towards the ceiling all along (no privately owned media are allowed to enter the National Assembly nowadays).
The Venezuelan Economy as a Result of the Flagship Economic Policies of the “Bolivarian Revolution”
- Since Hugo Chávez came to power, more than 4.5 million hectares of productive land, as well as numerous small, medium, and large companies, have been expropriated by the government without compensation.
- She acknowledges that a huge amount of resources have been transferred from the state to the poorest sectors of society, but this has been mostly due to the windfall created by booming oil prices during the last decade. Further, nothing has been achieved in terms of strengthening the capacity of the poor to become autonomous members of society, able to provide for themselves and create wealth. The government has systematically undermined the capacity of the private sector to generate sustainable jobs for those who need them the most.
- She claims that as more people become economically dependent of the state, they will ultimately become politically, socially, and even spiritually submissive to it. The way to fight poverty is by creating the conditions for people to be able to prosper for themselves, in voluntary and peaceful cooperation with others.
- The minimum salary in Venezuela today is worth less than US$60 per month. The cost of a basket of basic goods is triple that amount.
- Medicines are generally very scarce and many can’t be found, even in private hospitals, but the government wastes millions of dollars every week fraudulently purchasing expired medicines from Cuba.
Venezuela’s Oil Industry and its Impact on Public Finances
- Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state-owned oil company that generates the majority of foreign exchange revenues for the country, used to produce 3.3 million of barrels per day in 1998, but today it produces less than 2.3 million barrels a day. It used to produce 180,000 barrels of gasoline per day, but that has shrunk to 120,000, and the country needs to import a significant amount of gas, which is widely used by the poor for cooking. Because domestic gas prices are regulated, people have to cue for hours to purchase it, and pay almost five times the regulated price to acquire it in the black market.
- Venezuelan sovereign debt was $35 billion in 1998. Today it is impossible to know the exact amount, but it is more than $200 billion. The regime hasn’t even been able to pay many of its key providers. She urged senators to “ask Brazillian comapanies how they are doing with collecting the money the Venezuelan government owes them…”
- Despite the weakness of the Venezuelan economy, and the disastrous situation of its public finances, the regime gives away $12 billion per year to Cuba. And “in exchange for this,” Cuba’s intelligence and security services have systematically undermined the sovereignty of Venezuela by infiltrating its key institutions, with the consent of the Boivarian Revolution.
The Assault on Freedom of Speech and Other Civil Liberties
- Many opposition leaders have been arrested and jailed for political reasons. Worker unionism is completely criminalized, and more than 200 union workers have been murdered. None of those murders have been properly investigated by the judiciary.
- The regime systematically censors private media outlets. It tortures and kills students participating in the ongoing street protests.
- The regime claims that the opposition is launching a coup against the government are unfounded. However, the Venezuelan constitution contemplates the right of the people to ask for the president’s resignation when their human rights have been systematically violated by the government. The situation in Venezuela can be described as a “coup implemented from within the state.”
The Epidemic of Violence
- A Venezuelan citizen is murdered every 20 minutes, most of them young people in the poorest regions and neighborhoods of the country. 98 percent of murders in the country are never solved in a court of law.
- It is not true that there is a civil war going on in Venezuela at the moment. What is going on is a war against civilians, waged by a small group in control of the Venezuelan state.
Machado’s Recent Dismissal as a Congresswoman
- Article 149 of the Venezuelan Constitution states that government officials cannot accept full-time employment or exercise other governmental functions that compete with the official’s duties. But article 191 states that deputies can exercise temporary functions, which is what she did when she recently spoke before the Organization of American States (OAS). She accepted the invitation of the Panamanian delegation to do so, and that ultimately was the reason Maduro’s regime accused her of treason, and illegally dismissed her from the National Assembly.