Henrique Capriles Radonski, the two-time presidential candidate of the Venezuelan opposition is part of what the government calls “the trilogy of evil.” The other two members are Leopoldo López, who is behind bars, awaiting trial over his alleged responsibility for the violent protests that took place in February, and ex-congresswoman María Corina Machado, whom the chavista regime ousted from the National Assembly earlier this year.
Differences sprang up between Capriles and other opposition leaders after they promoted the protests as a way to use pressure from street demonstrations to force the government to resign. But 40 people died, the chavistas closed ranks, and a schism opened within the opposition.
Question. How do you see the situation in the country?
Answer. We have been watching a profound economic crisis coming, which brought a social crisis along with it, and both have fueled the political crisis. If we analyze the government’s loss of popularity and support, the causes are fundamentally economic and social. All the surveys agree on one thing: the government may only have the approval of 30 or 35 percent. It is no longer the majority. And I think it could get worse. They haven’t hit bottom yet.
Q. It looked like the leaders of the opposition scattered in all directions in the face of this crisis.
A. No. There are different ideas within the opposition about how to build change. In this country, the majority live in lower-class districts and have been the support base for the government for the last few years. But they are clearly worn out and there is a desire for change that was evident in the last presidential election in April. Of the 7.4 million votes we received, how many of them live in those neighborhoods? Five or six million. Which means that the government is clearly no longer the only option for the lower class. I think there has to be multi-class change. I don’t see a way to achieve change and for this country to have a proper government if we do not make a new social contract with the poor.
Q. At the end of the last election, your leadership within the opposition was indisputable but then you lost ground. First, you said you won, but you could not prove it. Then you called for a march to demand a recount by the National Electoral Council (CNE) but then you asked people not to go to the demonstration in order to avoid an outbreak of violence. And people were disappointed that you took that step back.
The government is no longer the only political option for the lower class”
A. Some people, not everyone. This is not about my personal project. My obsession is a change in Venezuela and we have had to deal with internal smear campaigns from people who are not interested in building leadership and believe that leadership can come out of destroying Capriles or other leaders. I chose, and I would do so a thousand times over if I had to choose again, to avoid the killing of hundreds of people. It is very easy to come and apply pressure when someone else causes the killing. Moreover, at the time it was a unanimous decision. All the parties agreed that the march to downtown Caracas had to be cancelled in order to avoid a war. I am never going to betray what I am.
Q. What are you?
A. I am a pacifist. I am not going to push Venezuelans into a war of people against people. I am a democrat who seeks to build a majority. I still believe that this country can figure out an electoral solution. I still believe that we can build a multi-class majority here, from the bottom to the top, and not from the top to the bottom.
Q. Has the opposition taken responsibility for everything that has happened?
A. How many opposition leaders do you see running around the neighborhoods, the lower-class districts and organizing the people? That’s self-criticism right here. The change is not just about calling for change. You have to talk to people about their problems. You sometimes hear speeches from other leaders and when you ask people if they identify with it, they say no, because it’s abstract. They seem like messages for the elite and that elite class stayed behind. An elite opposition group will not replace what we have now.
Q. It seems like the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) foundered after the demonstrations of the last few months.
A. No, I think that choosing Chúo Torrealba was a good thing and it will help relaunch the Roundtable.
Q. In your opinion, what should the MUD’s role be? A means to get to the election?
A. Yes, I see it as an electoral platform.
Politics in Venezuela is not an office job, air conditioning, social media”
Q. Was the MUD a straitjacket for the opposition because it did not allow each member to develop their own political program?
A. No, I think it served a very important purpose. It is very easy to criticize. When there is a defeat ... defeats are always orphans. But when there is a victory everyone stands proud. Now, there is nothing on the economic horizon that will change in this country and it is clear that the government is losing popularity, which means this is a great opportunity, not only to organize people around the general discontent, but also to present a project of an attractive country that the people can fall in love with and that makes them dream. That is the challenge. Politics in Venezuela is not an office job, air conditioning, social media. Nothing can replace face-to-face interaction here. The regime has lost its connection with the people. The leaders of that party, whom they call enchufados [well-connected individuals], live on another planet.
Q. If they are out of touch with reality, and if your solution is peaceful, you will at some point have to reopen dialogue with this government you call “monstrous.”
A. Unfortunately leaders I admired such as Mandela and Gandhi are no longer alive for you to ask them that question, because they have followers within the opposition who endlessly criticized the initiative to open dialogue. Have you seen the picture of Mandela with De Klerk? At some point you have to talk to even your fiercest adversary.
Q. Would you trust international mediation?
A. Not all Latin American countries have the same circumstances. Brazil and Colombia have their institutions. The same goes for Ecuador, which, despite President Correa, has a better political institution that ours. Why do I say that? Because I do not believe any other Latin American country today, except for Argentina – and Cristina Fernández Kirchner is about to retire – would want to copy the Venezuelan model. None of them. The Venezuelan government is the one avoiding international mediation, even from Unasur. The government does not want mediation.
Translation: Dyane Jean François