David Smolansky - Former Mayor of El Hatillo, Venezuela HARDtalk


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David Smolansky - Former Mayor of El Hatillo, Venezuela

Stephen Sackur talks to David Smolansky. Why does Venezuela's opposition so consistently promise more than it delivers?


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Now on BBC News, it's

time for HARDtalk.

0:00:000:00:12

Welcome to HARDtalk. I'm Stephen

Sackur. There was a time last year

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when it seemed that President

Maduro's grip of an power in

0:00:180:00:23

Venezuela was loosening. Yet here we

are, two months away from a

0:00:230:00:28

presidential election with Maduro

using confidence and his opponents

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seemingly in disarray. My guest

today is one diehard anti- regime

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activists, David Smolansky, who was

the mayor of a district in Caracas

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until he fled the country to escape

a jail term for aiding the street

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protests last year. Wide as

Venezuela's opposition so

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consistently promise more than it

delivers? David Smolansky in

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Washington, DC. Welcome to HARDtalk.

Thank you very much for having me.

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We're glad to have you won the show,

albeit via satellite in Washington,

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DC. How does it feel to be a

Venezuelan, a politician, an

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activist who currently is living in

the US capital? Do you feel

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uncomfortable?

Obviously it is not

comfortable because I want to be in

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the country. I am a public servant.

I was removed from office with no

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justification at all. At the same

time, I have prepared myself to be

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in exile because I know that this

regime does not tolerate things that

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are different.

You were the mayor of

a district of Caracas. A district

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where we saw mass street protests in

the summer of last year. The

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government accused you of using your

powers to aid and abet the protest

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rather than keep the streets clear,

you encourage the protest is to

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block the streets. Is that true?

It

is not true. Firstly, our laws and

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our Constitution guarantee the right

that any citizen may protest. Every

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protest that I had in my district in

Caracas was peaceful. Nonviolent.

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The hospital of my town, El Hatillo,

had to tend to hundreds of students

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who were wounded because of the

oppression of the security forces.

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Maduro does not tolerate any mayor

in the position. 13 mayors in the

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last four years have been removed.

We represent 10 million of the

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population of Venezuela, that is one

third of the population.

As you say,

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the Supreme Court removed you from

office. It did not remove you from

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the country. That was entirely your

decision as it became clear that you

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are going to be imprisoned for 15

months on these charges of aiding

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and abetting the protests, you did

not stay to face the music, you

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chose to flee. I wonder, in

retrospect, given that some other

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Venezuelans, politicians including

the leader of your own party have

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taken a very different decision,

they have chosen to stay and fight,

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you regret your decision?

I do not

regret. I went to Einstein for 30

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days. When I was there, security

forces were looking after me. My

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family was threatened. My team was

also threatened. I decided to flee

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the country because I think I can do

more in exile to recover democracy

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and freedom in Venezuela. It is a

very personal decision. I do not

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regret it and I have a history with

this because of my grandparents who

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left in -- Europe in the and then my

parents who left Cuba. I had to

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leave Venezuela so I know what it is

to lead a country.

I do take that

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point and I am very aware that it is

easy for me to sit in a studio in

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London and second-guess a very

difficult decision that you had to

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face. I return to the leader of your

party, one of the leading opposition

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figures in the country, Lopez. I

notice myself because I visited your

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country and had some experience

talking to Lopez's family. He made

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the decision to stay and fight. He

ended up in detention for a while

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and is currently under house arrest.

In many ways I think many

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Venezuelans would argue that that

enhanced his credibility. You were

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one of the youngest opposition

mayors in all of Venezuela, a rising

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star in the party. I wonder if you

think your credibility, in some

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ways, has been damaged by fleeing,

first to Brazil and then to

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Washington, DC?

First of all I have

to say that Leopoldo Lopez has shown

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courage. He is a brave man, our

leader. He leads Voluntad Popular.

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And when I fled I was able to talk

to him and he supported the

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decision. I am not the only one from

a political party in exile.

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Secondly, I am not concerned about

my credibility because at the end of

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the day, you build an ability when

you have clear convictions. My

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convictions in Washington, DC,

Brazil or anywhere, if I go, the

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same as they are in Venezuela I work

hard to recover democracy, to

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recover security and being able to

return to Venezuela, being part of a

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generation that will rebuild our

country that is suffering too much.

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Your country is suffering. The

economy is in a terrible mess and

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poverty rates are frighteningly high

and people are struggling for food

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and a sick medicines. Yet, the

protest movement, which was so

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strong last year and saw hundreds of

thousands of people take to the

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streets of Caracas and other towns

and cities, it has dwindled to

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nothing. Why?

Why? Because Maduro

was against the wall and he used

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weapons, he used guns and he used

all its and he used all the forces

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to keep power. Last year I was on

those protest. 120 consecutive days,

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we were on the streets nonviolently

and over 130 people were killed. As

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a mayor I had to bury five of them.

The world needs to understand that

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Venezuelans, the vast majority,

disapprove of this regime. We have

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not been able to change Maduro

because he is using weapons to keep

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power and unfortunately part of the

armed Forces, part of the Armed

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Forces are a political party with

weapons which is something dangerous

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for people, as I said before, for

people who are suffering and have to

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flee the country.

You say the world

needs to understand. I think one

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thing the world are struggling to

understand is what exactly the

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strategy of the opposition is. I am

looking at quotes here from the man

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we discussed earlier, Leopoldo

Lopez, also a mayor, another mirror

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of Caracas and another opposition

leader. All of them were saying last

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year that these protests will

continue until we bring Maduro now.

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That there we have it, Nicolas

Maduro is still in power. There are

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no more street protests and the

opposition just last week was

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actually in a dialogue, and

negotiation with Maduro. So what is

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the strategy today?

First of all we

have had protest. Just different

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protest to the once we had last

year, they were political protest

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last year but if you see the protest

we have had in 2018, it is desperate

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people looking for food, looking for

medicines and Maduro has also

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oppressed innocent people. Second,

the negotiations and the Dominican

0:09:440:09:47

Republic um which, I must say, I

disagree and in my opinion that was

0:09:470:09:53

a regime strategy to gain time to

keep power, at the end of the day it

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did not have any agreement. The

opposition went, they did not sign

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an agreement because we do not have

free elections. The majority of the

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candidates Irene exile, in jail,

they are ruled out to compete. The

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political party has been utilised so

you cannot go to an election where

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the only one who can compete is

Nicolas Maduro with a referee

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playing for him.

Isn't this the

point I am getting at? There is deep

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division and some might say chaos

within the opposition. You have an

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opposition leader who was adamant

that they should go to Dominican

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Republic and six law possibilities

with the regime and then you have

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others like yourself saying no, that

is a crazy idea. There is no

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strategy or vision within the

opposition.

I say this after the

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dialogue, as someone who is in power

with a political party, you must be

0:11:040:11:09

disciplined and I was. Unfortunately

there was no agreement at all. I

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must say something. I think media,

and the international community, all

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the time are talking about the

different criteria that the position

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has which in my position is good

because that is democracy. No-one is

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talking about the divisions in the

regime. The Minister of Justice,

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Torres, he left the political party

of the regime. And it is critical to

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the regime. I look more to the

fractures in the regime. In my

0:11:490:11:55

opinion it is good to have different

criteria from the opposition but I

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agree with you that we need to have

one strategy. And our strategy at

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the moment is that we are not going

to elections because there is no

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guarantee. It is not free, it is not

fair and as I said before, the

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candidates Irene exile, imprisoned

or unavailable.

But that would be a

0:12:180:12:24

big mistake because Nicolas Maduro

is now adamant that the elections

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will happen on April 22. He says,

and I quote, we should be united as

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Venezuelans, putting aside our

differences, putting our country

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first and showing what really unites

us. He says he welcomes a challenge

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from anybody in the opposition who

chooses to stand against him for the

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presidency. It is not going to look

good, when you are the champions of

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democracy and yet you refuse to take

up this opportunity to defeat Maduro

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at the ballot box.

Are you a

champion of democracy if you go to

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an election that is democratic. We

do not have that in Venezuela

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because there is no independent

institution and as I said before,

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the political party for the

opposition and candidates are ruled

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out thickly must be coherent. And to

be coherent is to say we can go to

0:13:160:13:22

the election unless we have the

conditions. Were not alone in that.

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France, Spain, the United States,

Canada even Colombia have said that

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they will not recognise elections in

Venezuela. Last week, the European

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Parliament um with a landslide 480

votes in favour, condemned that call

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for election and said that sanctions

must be expanded after those

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sanctions. -- so almost nobody in

the world is recognising the

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election that we are having in

Venezuela.

Is one of the problems

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here that despite the massive

economic problems facing ordinary

0:14:030:14:10

Venezuelans, many of your countrymen

and women do not trust the various

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leaders and figures in the

opposition to deliver a better,

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fairer Venezuela than the current

regime of Maduro? I will quote you

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one respected analyst of Venezuelan

who lives here in London at the

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University of Lund. He said this.

The majority of Venezuelans fear the

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return of the right wing to power,

more than the alleged incompetence

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of Maduro.

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The majority of Venezuelans are

surviving. Fortunately, people are

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not leaving Venezuela that the

people are surviving. The majority

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of Venezuelans wake up every day

looking at what they will have for

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breakfast, the majority go to bed

very worried because they do not

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find a medicine to cure a member of

their family.

I know that to be true

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because I have seen it for myself.

Yeah.

My point is many of the

0:15:150:15:20

poorest people in Venice do not see

that the opposition coalition groups

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have an agenda which is more likely

to deliver them an easier and better

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life than the Xavi state government.

-- Venezuela. -- Chauvista.

We had

0:15:300:15:41

demonstrations last year. That was

the last chance to have free and

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fair elections. We're not going this

election. And is now we are

0:15:470:15:52

discussing in different ways how to

face these challenges. Do you want

0:15:520:15:56

to hear my opinion? I will tell you

on this programme. My opinion is

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that we need to go to an election by

ourselves, as we did last year on

0:16:010:16:06

the 16th of July. You can correct

me, but we need to do that. We need

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to elect our president, our vice

president, the Minister of Foreign

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Affairs, someone responsible for the

economy, and we have something

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really unique in our dictatorship.

We still have a parliament. And that

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Parliament could swear in the new

president.

OK, imagine you did that.

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What policies would you actually

pursue? I want to put you on the

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spot on one particular Wallasey, and

that is, would you back much tougher

0:16:350:16:39

international sanctions? -- policy.

United States, where you are today,

0:16:390:16:46

for example, they are going to

deepen the sanctions regime to stop

0:16:460:16:51

it targeting known individuals at

the top of the regime and actually

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consider an oil embargo. Now, what

would you as an opposition figure in

0:16:550:16:59

America, what would you say to the

idea of that kind of much more tough

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sanctions regime imposed by the

United States?

OK, let me go part by

0:17:060:17:13

part first, it would not be that

symbolic. It would have the support

0:17:130:17:17

of the people, the support of the

Parliament, and the support of

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international communities. We could

get Maduro against the wall again.

0:17:210:17:27

Second, I think that it is important

to keep the sanctions, not only from

0:17:270:17:33

the United States and Canada, I

think it is important what the

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European Union said last week. And

also, something I would like to

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propose, Latin American countries

that could, for example, restrict

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the, umm, flights that some of the

high officials do in Latin America.

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That would be really important.

Because many of the high officials

0:17:540:17:57

and their families have their

properties and bank accounts in

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Latin America. And third, the oil

embargo. I mean, the oil embargo is

0:18:010:18:07

something that, it sounds, in my

opinion, out of context in this

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moment. Why is that? Venezuela has,

as you know, the biggest oil

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reserves in the world. We should be

exporting at least five or 6 million

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barrels a day. Now we are exporting

just a million. I mean, the person

0:18:220:18:26

that has embargoed our country is

destroying Venezuela.

You are in

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Washington, DC. Have you had contact

with Senator Marco Rubio from

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Florida?

I have not talked to him

personally. I have just been in

0:18:400:18:45

Washington for three months. So I

have had talks with the, umm, part

0:18:450:18:51

of his staff, but I have not known

him personally.

But his staff, the

0:18:510:19:00

other day Rubio tweeted this. The

world would support the armed forces

0:19:000:19:03

in Venezuela if they decided to

protect the people and restore

0:19:030:19:07

democracy by removing this dictator.

You support that kind of language

0:19:070:19:12

coming from American politician?

I

think what is really important for

0:19:120:19:18

Venezuelans is we need to persuade

our soldiers to be institutional.

0:19:180:19:24

Unfortunately, our Venezuela right

now has 2000 generals, that is more

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than the whole navy. And those 2000

generals are allegedly linked to

0:19:280:19:35

things very dangerous such as

trafficking, money laundering, and

0:19:350:19:39

corruption. But the low and middle

range of our soldiers are suffering

0:19:390:19:45

like any other Venezuelan. They

suffer from hyperinflation, 70- 80%.

0:19:450:19:53

If we persuade them to be

institutional, to obey the laws in

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the Constitution, I think we can

have a change in Venezuela.

You have

0:19:580:20:02

not really answered my question so I

will ask it again, this time with

0:20:020:20:06

the words of Secretary of State Rex

Tillerson. He said in the history of

0:20:060:20:12

Venezuela and other South American

countries, oftentimes the military

0:20:120:20:14

is the agent of change when things

are very bad. A clear implication he

0:20:140:20:19

thinks that time has come in

Venezuela. I put it to you again.

0:20:190:20:23

The Americans at the very top level

are suggesting the time has come for

0:20:230:20:28

an army rebellion against the

regime. Do you back those calls? Are

0:20:280:20:34

you pleased the Americans are using

the language?

As I said before, I

0:20:340:20:38

mean, I would not get to the play of

words. What I am clear, and as

0:20:380:20:47

someone who had to work with police,

and we had to work sometimes with

0:20:470:20:52

the National Guard, we need our

soldiers to obey the Constitution.

0:20:520:20:56

We need our soldiers to obey the

laws. We need them to be

0:20:560:21:03

institutional. And if they...

What

you are repeatedly avoiding is any

0:21:030:21:09

mention of the US role. People like

you and the opposition who end up in

0:21:090:21:13

Washington, DC are painted by Maduro

and his allies as people who are

0:21:130:21:19

fellow travellers with imperialismo,

traditional US interference in

0:21:190:21:29

Venezuelan affairs that be if you

cannot defend that language from

0:21:290:21:32

Washington, perhaps Maduro has a

point.

As I said before, I do not

0:21:320:21:40

have any problem to repeat that we

need to persuade our soldiers to be

0:21:400:21:43

institutional. The problem is that,

in the history of Latin America, we

0:21:430:21:47

have talked all the time about coup

de tat. In my opinion, in Venezuela,

0:21:470:21:52

we have continuous coup de tats. For

example, the election on April 22 to

0:21:520:22:00

be historically, presidential

elections are always at the end of

0:22:000:22:03

every year and are called six months

before -- 22nd. So when I say that

0:22:030:22:09

we need to persuade our soldiers to

be institutional, umm, I do not

0:22:090:22:15

regret that. And to be in the United

States and called imperialist, that

0:22:150:22:20

is something that, to be honest with

you, I do not want to sound rude, I

0:22:200:22:25

do not care, because the country has

intervened with Cubans, the Chinese

0:22:250:22:32

and Russians also playing very hard

in our country, taking our oil. The

0:22:320:22:38

problem in Venezuelan needs to be

solved by Venezuelans, but at the

0:22:380:22:41

same time, when it help from the

international community, especially

0:22:410:22:47

to recover the economy and solve the

humanitarian crisis.

We will end

0:22:470:22:50

with this point. You have been

sitting in Washington for the last

0:22:500:22:54

three months doing the best to play

an external political role, raising

0:22:540:22:57

the profile of the opposition

campaign against Maduroyou

0:22:570:23:04

disappointed with the international

community. Russia, China, China,

0:23:040:23:08

they are still backing Maduro. Many

leftists in Latin America and Europe

0:23:080:23:11

and elsewhere still backing Maduro.

Are you fundamentally disappointed?

0:23:110:23:15

I am not at all. I have to say the

international community has been

0:23:150:23:20

really active in Venezuela,

especially in the last month. Just

0:23:200:23:23

what you saw in the European

Parliament last week, 480

0:23:230:23:27

parliamentarians voted condemning

the call to elections in Venezuela,

0:23:270:23:34

including, including, left-wing

political parties. When you see

0:23:340:23:39

president Santos saying they will

not recognise those elections, but

0:23:390:23:45

Venezuelans are fleeing. For the

first time, I feel for the first

0:23:450:23:50

time we are not alone, we are not

isolated as the opposition, and we

0:23:500:23:55

have to see that the things going on

in Venezuela is not a threat to

0:23:550:23:59

Venezuelans. The regime of Maduro is

the biggest crisis in the Western

0:23:590:24:11

Hemisphere and threatens

Venezuelans.

We have the end of

0:24:110:24:14

there. But thank you very much for

coming on HARDtalk thank you very

0:24:140:24:18

much for having me.

0:24:180:24:21

Stephen Sackur talks to David Smolansky, an anti-regime activist who was the mayor of a district in Caracas until he fled the country to escape a jail term for aiding 2017's street protests. There was a time in 2017 when it seemed President Maduro's grip on power in Venezuela was loosening. Yet here we are two months away from a presidential election with Maduro oozing confidence and his opponents seemingly in disarray. Why does Venezuela's opposition so consistently promise more than it delivers?