February 25, 2019

On Monday February 25, the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center held a rapid reaction conference call addressing the developments in Venezuela and the potential next steps for the interim government of President Juan Guaidó. The conversation included the following participants: José Manuel Olivares, Representative for the State of Vargas in the Venezuelan National Assembly; Jason Marczak, Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center; and Diego Area, Associate Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Jason Marczak set the stage for the discussion by summarizing the weekend’s events, which centered on a push by the interim government to move humanitarian aid into Venezuela. The opposition’s effort was met with violence on the part of the Maduro regime, which burned two trucks full of humanitarian aid; shot at protestors, injuring hundreds and killing at least four; and barricaded pathways for aid to enter Venezuela from Colombia and Brazil.

“Venezuela has the world’s attention,” said Marczak, maintaining that next steps should include discussions about consolidating and accelerating international support for the interim government.

Diego Area moderated the discussion with José Manuel Olivares, who he called “not only a Venezuelan doctor and exiled National Assembly Representative, but also the principal coordinator for the international push for humanitarian aid” into Venezuela. Area recognized Olivares’s commitment to democracy in Venezuela, calling him a “young man who has dedicated his entire life to the fight for freedom in Venezuela.”

Olivares shared his experience from the weekend. “Early Saturday morning, we received threats from Freddy Bernal, director of the Special Action Forces of the Bolivarian National Police (FAES for its Spanish acronym),” said Olivares. Later, he described how four individuals connected to the Maduro regime attempted to assault, kidnap, and take him into custody in Venezuela. He described being struck in the face on the Simon Bolivar bridge, expressing relief that he was able to join the conversation today instead of being repressed in a prison in Caracas. He stressed that the day was equally as challenging for many Venezuelans—on the Simon Bolivar bridge in Cúcuta, which Olivares was in charge of, over 330 Venezuelans were injured by fire, smoke, tear gas, and bullets. By Sunday, the number of injured had risen to over 400, said Olivares.

Additionally, Olivares shared new data on the crisis in Venezuela. He said that, in the last three months, 1,557 Venezuelans had died from lack of access to life-saving medications. “That is 1,557 Venezuelans that did not have to die,” said Olivares, placing direct blame for their deaths on the Maduro regime and all who support it. He further broke down the number: 156 had died from traumas that were not able to be appropriately addressed, 801 from cardiovascular issues that are treatable, and 79 from issues directly related to electrical shortages in homes or hospitals. He reiterated that these deaths could have been prevented if Venezuelans had access to the healthcare they need. More are likely to die in the coming weeks given massive deficits in access to basic medications, including a 75 percent shortage of morphine, 66 percent shortage of hypertension medications, and 51 percent shortage of insulin. Olivares noted that the opposition has been carefully documenting deaths caused by the humanitarian crisis, as well as other human rights violations to prepare for an eventual trial against the Maduro regime and its affiliates in an international court of justice.   

Olivares also addressed the positive developments that unfolded over the weekend—over 150 members of the military declared their allegiance to interim president Juan Guaidó, Venezuelans remain more committed than ever to restoring democracy, and the international community is increasingly aware of the violent, repressive tactics used by the Maduro regime against its own people. Area agreed, saying that “inviting members of the military to join the interim government and to align with democracy is a fundamental step for achieving transition in Venezuela.”

Building off this, Olivares reaffirmed Guaidó’s assertion that “all options are on the table” in the usurpation of power from Maduro and pointed to the discussion between Vice President Mike Pence and members of the Lima Group as the appropriate outlet for establishing next steps for the international community. “The aggressive intentions of Maduro have never been clearer,” said Olivares, who expressed his unwavering commitment to challenging the illegitimate dictator through all means possible.

“On behalf of President Guaidó, the National Assembly, and above all, the Venezuelan people, thank you,” said Olivares, expressing gratitude for the international community’s continued support and commitment to change in Venezuela.