Venezuela Needs a New Leader, Not New Constitution, Almagro Says

  • Country’s slide into dictatorship has been a gradual process
  • Head of OAS says President Maduro must listen to the people

Why Venezuela's Many Crises Keep Getting Worse

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has gone too far to bring the country back from the brink, said the secretary-general of the Organization of American States. The crisis-ridden nation needs elections and a peaceful transition of power -- not the new constitution that Maduro has promised, he said.

“Venezuela is drowning in an economic, financial, social and humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions,” Luis Almagro said in an interview at the OAS headquarters in Washington on Friday. “There is a dictatorship in Venezuela, and Venezuela needs elections. The only institutional exit for the country is a general election.”

Luis Almagro

Photographer: Norberto Duarte/AFP via Getty Images

Maduro’s recent call to rewrite the constitution is just the latest step in a long-running coup that has undermined Venezuelans fundamental rights, Almagro said. There are almost no elements of a democracy left in the Latin American nation, with the government violating the powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly and the independence of the judiciary, he said.

The head of the OAS said an “inflection point” for him was when the government started to imprison political leaders during anti-government protests in 2014 and then later after the government tried to sideline the National Assembly following the opposition’s victory in congressional elections in 2015. Maduro must now listen to the voice of the people following a month of anti-government protests that have left at least 35 people dead, Almagro added.

“The only thing Maduro needs to listen to is the clamor of his people,” Almagro said. “That’s it. Nothing more. Dictators are always slow to listen to their people, until one day they have to.”

Tougher Stance

Almagro, a lawyer and Uruguay’s foreign minister from 2010 to 2015, has taken a strong interest in Venezuela’s crisis since he took the reins of the Washington-based OAS in 2015 and pushed the region toward a tougher stance after several failed dialogue processes that started after the anti-government protests in 2014.

“There needs to be a vision and a plan for the integral reconstruction of the country,” Almagro said. “But first you need a legitimate government that is in condition to receive international help.”

He scoffed at Maduro’s demands for a new assembly to rewrite the constitution. “The problem in Venezuela is not the constitution, it’s the violation of the constitution,” Almagro said.

Former President Hugo Chavez would probably be worried about the path his political legacy has taken, Almagro added. Chavez had said the current constitution was the best in the world, “and it’s been violated in all of its forms,” Almagro said.

Facing Reality

Maduro’s administration was no longer able to pull the wool over people’s eyes as it did during the last round of regional talks in 2014.

“Back in 2014, I don’t think there was a complete understanding of the reality,” Almagro said. “The regime at that moment was successful in selling an image that the protesters were trying to provoke a coup, that all of the opposition politicians were trying to attempt a coup.”

Despite the increasingly polarized atmosphere in Venezuela, the opposition must reject any demands for retribution, while Maduro should not flee the country, Almagro said.

“Maduro’s country is Venezuela, and he has to stay there and be responsible for what he is responsible,” Almagro said. “To return to democracy, there needs to be a serious political dialogue so that there can be a coexistence of parties with different ideologies. That’s the only way forward. Anything else would be a grave error.”

— With assistance by Noris Soto, and Fabiola Zerpa

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