Margarita López Maya is a member of the Steering Committee of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences, vice president of the Latin American Studies Associationny full professor at the Center for Development Studies, Cendes, in Caracas. She has been critical of the opposition’s performance for a long time, she is a highly consulted figure by Venezuelan civil society. López Maya observes that, at this moment, Nicolás Maduro is making political concessions to his opponents to consolidate his power, and that this flexibility could help him to be accepted and considered as inevitable in the current international political framework.
Ask. Do you think it is necessary to lift international sanctions on the country, as a group of personalities recently proposed?
Response. Depends. The issue of licenses to exploit oil, for example, is fundamental, essential for the reactivation of the economy. It is clear that the United States is not going to lift the sanctions on the Chavista regime until it sees a change in conduct, a commitment by Maduro to democracy, something that no one has seen. But the population is going through an extremely serious situation, and it is necessary to normalize oil production in the country. The entire current strategic framework against Maduro is outdated and the opposition does not want to recognize it. What has happened to the Interim Government has happened in other countries that receive such explicit support from the United States: they end up corrupted. Politicians who live on subsidies, on Venezuelan assets abroad. There is a status quo, vested interests around their very existence.
P. There is a new group, broken off from the opposition leadership called Fuerza Vecinal, which has been gaining strength, tolerated by Chavismo. Do you assign possibilities?
R. I don’t have much knowledge about them. It seems that this type of organization is trying to adapt to the logic of the dictatorship in order to grow. Which of those parties would be willing to go to a fight for the recovery of democracy, or to be decorative organizations of the autocracy, it is not clear to me.
P. How do you interpret the opening that Maduro is rehearsing at this time in the economic and trade union field?
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R. It’s all part of the government’s strategy to prolong its hegemony. I do not see in that opening a real strategic and economic plan. A true economic strategy needs legal certainty, access to international credit. The new Supreme Court of Justice that elected the Chavismo parliament does not provide any legal certainty, the most questioned judges have ended up re-elected. There is an emerging world authoritarian model, which is being sold as viable, this type of illiberal regimes, the autocracies of the 21st century, which have international support and influence to survive. Venezuela has lost relevance in international politics. Maduro is trying to recover positions, and if he can, he will try to win the 2024 presidential elections cleanly. The opposition cannot find a way. Venezuela can spend some time in this morass, stuck in that swamp. Meanwhile, civil society does what it can, its ant job, opening spaces for dialogue to see if it can get improvements in public services, in food.
P. The organization of an internal consultation with their bases seems to be gaining ground in the opposition factions, some primaries to unify strategies and leadership for 2024.
R. I have heard something of that. Sounds good to me, they can have some effect, but there has to be work within the opposition political parties, from the grassroots. How is the opposition going to govern in this disaster, divided on all sides? How long will that government last?
P. Do you see the reactivation of political dialogue in Mexico as possible?
R. That door is open. The Maduro government is interested in negotiating above all with the United States, with Europe, having open channels with them.
P. What do you think of the current policy of the Biden administration with Maduro?
R. There is no comparison with Donald Trump, who was simply a crude instrumental manipulation of the Venezuelan problem, but clearly this strategy lacks clarity.
P. Do you think that a new, unknown figure may appear, opening a gap in the current board?
R. I want to see that. If the opposition is able to lay down its personal ambitions and reach consensus with a outsider.
P. Do you think that the dream of political change is still alive in Venezuelan society?
R. What happens is that maybe we can change, but not for the better. I would think that it is most likely that we are moving to a political regime that is perhaps a little more tolerant, and somewhat more efficient, with more private participation, but not a return to a system of political civil liberties and a rule of law like the one that we had in the 20th century.
P. In this context, doesn’t it seem feasible for Maduro to decide to wipe out what’s left, take everyone prisoner, end once and for all the civil society that opposes him?
R. No. This emerging model of Maduro has a field. It is the model of the Turks, of Hungary, they are the dictatorships of the 21st century, with some overtones, some nuances. Those soft dictatorial models also tend to be accepted, Maduro knows it.
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