Front Page Event
President & CEO,
Executive Vice Chair,
Director, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center,
Associate director, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center,
Interim President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
María Elena Salinas,
CBS News Contributor
Time: 4:30 p.m. EDT
Date: Thursday, April 23, 2020
FREDERICK KEMPE: Hello my name is Fred Kempe. I am president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Welcome to the Atlantic Council Front Page, this is our new live ideas platform spotlighting the most impressive, the most innovative, and very often the most courageous global leaders. If you joined us last week you heard from the president of Columbia Ivan Duque. Next Monday morning you will hear from the managing director of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva. But today we will be hearing from a man who has challenges that even those two cannot dream of at this moment in time, interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. Already facing the hemispheres worst man-made humanitarian catastrophes, Venezuela now must deal as well with a global pandemic coming at its door. Mr. Interim President, thank you so much for your work at this crucial moment. I think we all are eager to hear from you and how your country is confronting this moment.
Before we begin please be aware that this conversation will be conducted in Spanish. In fact, mine will be the last English words you will hear in this program, but you can get English translation. If you are on the zoom platform you have already been seeing us putting up the instructions. They are also going to be in the chat about how you can download Transparify. Or there is be a link where you can watch in English or Spanish on the Atlantic Council’s website, atlanticcouncil.org. You can’t actually click on the link in the Zoom chat because of security reasons, so you’re actually going to have to paste it, drag it, and then click on it if you need English. As I said if you are on Zoom, you are going to be hearing Spanish unless you have already downloaded the translator app. We are really looking forward to hearing you, Mr. Interim President. With that, it is my honor to turn over to Adrienne Arsht, executive vice chair of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors and founder of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and the Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. Adrienne, over to you.
ADRIENNE ARSHT: Now it is your last word in English. Mr. Interim President, it is truly an honor to have you with us today. Thank you for your time and for participating in this conversation.
JASON MARCZAK: Gracias, Fred. Thank you, Fred and Adrienne. I am Jason Marczak, welcome Interim President. Today’s discussion is part of our new series, Leaders of the Americas, which welcomes leaders at the top level to provide ideas and analyses on some of the most important problems of the region. Interim president Guaidó, on behalf of the Atlantic Council, we extend our solidarity and recognition. Right now, we recognize that you, the interim government, and the Venezuelan people are living in which could be the most difficult terms in the history of your country. The Venezuelan struggle is also our struggle and the struggle of everybody that is fighting for democracy in Venezuela. Now, it is even more important as you face the coronavirus. Interim President, from the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and the rest of the Atlantic Council, I want to reinforce that we support any initiative that will result in a peaceful transition in Venezuela. With that, I want to pass the torch to Maria Elena Salinas, one of the most recognized Hispanic journalists in the United States.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Thank you, my camera was not turned on. But I want to thank the Atlantic Council for the invitation, and I want to welcome you, interim president. Thank you for taking the time to converse with us. I want to extend our wishes that you and your family are well. First, I want to know where are you in quarantine, Mr. President?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: In Caracas, in the capital city of Venezuela, along with my family and members of my team. We have video conference meetings with the national parliament. They are not taking a break from their work.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Venezuela reports 288 positive cases of coronavirus. How accurate are these figures?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Well these are not accurate because of the dictatorship. There is not enough information. This information, it is an estimate. We had seventeen physicians and journalists that were imprisoned for communicating the real situation in our country. We need to calculate other figures and prepare ourselves for more people to get sick. Within the public health system, we have more than 27 million people and we only have 44 ventilators, which rises to 300 ventilators if you add those of the private health system. This shows that we have a collapsed health system. So, this is national emergency and we need to provide help for these people.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: What is the interim government doing to face this pandemic and provide resources for the affected people?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: We need to evaluate this emergency crisis. You know, Maria Elena, Venezuela lives amidst a humanitarian crisis. We have record debts and we have a crisis of 5 million refugees – only surpassed by Syria in the world. The shortages that we have are manifested by people that need to go out and work every day. Nurses have a wage of two to three dollars per month. These are the first responders for the health system, and the health workers are the first element we wanted to help. We want to establish a cash transfer program to health professionals of $100 for three months so they can reliably get to their jobs. There is no gasoline in Venezuela amidst this pandemic. We established a telemedicine resource because more than 30,000 people need to see a doctor. However, the government blocked the free line for people that wanted to access the already collapsed health system, so help was provided to only 443 people. We were trying to prevent the collapse of the health system and the dictatorship was blocking those efforts. Even so, we were able to overcome this bottleneck.
We have had some help from the United States and the European Union. $20 million have entered Venezuela through a robust operation. The dictatorship has not yet blocked this. Not only is the health system collapsed but also the dictatorship blocks any attempts to deliver humanitarian aid, in this case through professional associations like the College of Nurses. They are trying to help elderly people and have done that not only through food and medicine kits but also a first aid mechanism. Right now, in Venezuela, 83% of households do not have an available water supply, which makes it even harder for Venezuelans to follow hygienic measures. We have provided disinfectant with alcohol, but it is not enough considering the figures in Venezuela and of refugees as well. The president of Columbia helped 35,000 families and Bolsonaro helped 200,000 refugees in Brazil.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: I was going to ask you, the governments from Russia, China, and Taiwan have sent President Maduro’s government some materials. What help has your government, the interim government, received?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Nine million dollars donated by the United States. Twenty million from the multilateral organizations. This is a huge challenge for humanitarian aid because of the dictator’s efforts to block any humanitarian efforts. We need this aid not only for the pandemic but also because we have living in the situation for more than three years – one year since the United Nations systems formally recognized our crisis. But everything has worsened with persecution and the coronavirus crisis. Venezuela cannot survive both. Venezuelans must choose to fight either the pandemic or the famine. The authoritarian dictatorship discriminates us. We are intensely fighting with the support of multiple agencies to receive the aid that they have for us.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Before my next question I would like to remind the audience that they can ask questions via Twitter with the hashtag #ACVenezuela. You can tweet your questions and we will have an opportunity to ask you. Through Twitter or Zoom, use both platforms. And use #ACVenezuela.
As we know, the United States proposed the creation of a transition government that will call democratic elections in order to liberate Venezuela from sanctions. This will include chavismo partisans and the opposition but will not led by you or by President Maduro. Maduro has rejected this. Do you see viability in this proposal?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Well, Maduro will not have good faith. He has had a strong hand with journalists and health professionals, but our country is unified and is fighting to stop his continuous reign. Now, regarding the proposal on the National Assembly, remember that this is not a unilateral proposal. It was from the mediation talks that we conducted six months ago, and Maduro rejected. That is why he is refusing humanitarian aid for Venezuela. We want the world to trust that we want to have a peaceful transition – as what in Colombia when they were fighting FARC’s regional terrorism. Now in Venezuela, we want to endorse an orderly transition. In order to lift the sanctions, the United States have proposed the first step as a trusted transition.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Are you willing to step aside while a transition government calls for elections? And would you be a candidate for this presidency?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Well that same question was presented six months ago, because we need this transition government to address the emergency. Right now, in Venezuela, we need a process to conduct our physical election. It is our responsibility because we need to find alternatives and solutions. It is again on the table to move forward towards democracy. What I can tell you is that we need to have unified cause. We need to win by a majority in the Parliament because we need one advocate to face the dictatorship. We need to provide guarantees and incentives to create a space for transition in Venezuela. Famine and social unrest grow in several states. There were even some shots fired because people were fighting over food. We need to have this transition and have the confidence of the people. This dictatorship is connected to terrorism and drug trafficking. We need truly free elections.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Reuters broadcast said that sources from both sides confirmed there are secret conversations among official representatives and your interim government. So, what are those negotiations?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: No, there are no negotiations or mediations whatsoever right now. The dictator is twisting our efforts. There is only one proposal that resulted from the mediation. With the support of the United States, it is a reasonable proposal. The OAS, the European Union, and different countries have presented us with the opportunity to address the emergency amidst the pandemic so we can reach a transition.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Before we talk about the national emergency government, is it possible to reach change any type of change in Venezuela without confronting the Chavismo government?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: We tried, and you know in 2019, there was Norwegian mediation, but the dictator refused. Right now, there is an unprecedented emergency throughout the continent, and we are all concerned about the tense and the stressful situation in the different states because they are facing not only coronavirus but famine as well. There is no food and we want to provide a solution. We want to talk about a solution. We also want to hold open elections. We have attempted changes, but we hope to reach a direct solution.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: In the process of creating a national emergency government, what will be the role of that national emergency government? What steps have you taken, and which stakeholders will the members of that government? Are you going to include other officials already in the administration?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: In Venezuela we are suffering. This is a dictatorship, and in order to address and to provide solutions we will rely on international funding, but nobody is going to lend money to a country in a dictatorship. It is like if El Chapo Guzmán had taken over the Mexican administration, for instance. It is the same situation in Venezuela. We have the members from different sectors who are fighting for peace and there are members of the National Armed Forces who also want to work with us.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: But what is going to be the role of that emergency government Mr. Interim President?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Number one, address the complex humanitarian emergency and address certain topics such as energy, transportation, and health. Number two, we want to rebuild the country with the necessary mechanisms so we can move towards a free election. We need independent arbitration including all branches of the States so we can have sufficient guarantees for participation. Number three, a memorandum of understanding we so we can rebuild the country and gain trust in our stability for and funding. But first, we need to have free elections in Venezuela.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: You have the support of around sixty countries who recognize you as interim president. So, in addition to that recognition, what is the role of in the international community to achieve a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Well, you know our best ally is the international community and there are Venezuelan immigrants all over the world – 700,000 in Ecuador, 1.7 million Venezuelans living in Colombia. But there is a menace inside our country because Nicolas Maduro has been working with cartels. So, we need to spread the word about this because he has been linked to drug cartels and with international terrorist organizations. Maria Elena, Venezuela is united. We have remained united. We go out to the streets to show our unity. But we will require financial support from the international community to address the health emergency and the famine, as well as water and energy supply so that we can stabilize the situation in the country. Perhaps the World Food Program that today places Venezuela amongst Yemen, Congo, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Those are the five countries at risk of failing, so we need help, and we need assistance.
We will not be able to solve this awful emergency with Nicolas Maduro at the front of the government. The diplomatic efforts, the Lima Group, must continue to work protecting human rights because right now Venezuela is going through an unprecedented famine and we need to provide a quick response. This could spread all over the continent, like the virus in Venezuela that will not just focus there but could lead to awful consequences all over the continent. We must be responsible for this process. As a global society, we are all responsible and we must all act together.
The former and deceased President Hugo Chavez funded multilateral organizations such as Unisur or Telesur, but you can see what happened with those institutions. The chavismo system started as a democratic system, but it led us to authoritarianism and it also led us to absolute crisis – and we are talking about a country that was never at war.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: I apologize for interrupting, but I would like to ask a question from the audience. This one comes from Cardoz Angola. There are three flights from Teheran, Caracas, and Paraguay, and you are planning to have three more flights. How could this be happening amidst the US sanctions? What is the purpose of that route from Tehran to Caracas?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Well, you know that airline was already sanctioned because they are also exporting firearms. That is an Iranian airline. We assume we do not have official information about this, but we assume that they were transporting personnel. That is our hypothesis. And regarding the pandemic, as you know Iran is one of the most contaminated countries of this virus, so having this air bridge from Tehran to Caracas is dangerous. The dictator is responsible for exactly for what is going on – and not only in terms of epidemics but drug trafficking and arm smuggling as well.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: We only have a few minutes left and I wanted to add just one more pressing question. Based on a few reactions I have just read on Twitter from this interview, what is your message to non-supporters? What is your message to skeptical as you know who people who do not acknowledge you as a president? What is your message to them? Why should they believe in you?
JUAN GUAIDÓ: I am working based on the Constitution and I want to rescue democracy. Democracy is strong. We want to also ensure that all Venezuelans can participate so we can generate employment. There are faces amid a dictatorship in Venezuela, and today there is a virus as well on top of that. All fishermen a few days ago got contaminated in a small community, so there is a huge challenge in Venezuela. The challenge is also to protect the most vulnerable, those who we never see, like the political prisoners being tortured for thinking different. We want to respect every citizens’ human rights and their right to live a dignified life in Venezuela. That is why we want an emergency government, for the possibility for freedom, and for liberty. Venezuela can no longer be the shelter for terrorists and drug traffickers. Venezuela is a country rich in resources, but today it is a victim of corruption and inefficiency and our brothers and sisters are at this very moment protesting all over the country because they are hungry.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Thank you very much. I would love to have an extra hour to talk with you because there is so much at stake for you, for your country, for the region, for the whole world. But it is now time to give the floor to Diego Area who will conclude our event. Thank you very much Mr. Interim President.
JUAN GUAIDÓ: Thank you.
DIEGO AREA: Thank you so much Mary Elena. Thank you, Mr. Interim President. It is a pleasure to have you here today. We clearly understand that the situation in Venezuela is as critical as ever and you do need global support. Right now, every country is internally focused on what is going on in their own country, which is why these types of platforms are important. We are giving visibility to the political situation in Venezuela and it is now more important than ever. It is clear for us that you have an action plan to mitigate the insurmountable consequences of COVID-19 in Venezuela. You were in a humanitarian crisis and a health crisis, in all sorts of crises, and now you have been hit by the pandemic. But in addition to short term solutions, we now understand that you do have a mid- and long-term vision. You are including most sectors of society, including dissident chavismo, in your administration so you can provide political feasibility to the transition without any doubt whatsoever. Justice and reparation of damages will guarantee the recovery of the country, but we must also acknowledge that the most potent measure today is national agreement to bring back democracy and to stop suffering among the Venezuelan population. Thank you very much, this was our second AC front page leaders of the Americas event. Thank you very much.