No Room for Dissidents

As the economic and political crisis deepens, Maduro holds on to power by keeping dissident voices far away from Miraflores, no matter where they come from.

Photo: El Cooperante

José Manuel Olivares, physician and lawmaker for Vargas, was recently featured in this website’s young politician series, one week before being forced to leave Venezuela.

His exile is the consequence of continuous complaints regarding the collapse of the Venezuelan health system, as depicted in the 2018 National Hospital Poll (in which he took part), and his increasingly higher participation in the health sector’s protest agenda. He now joins a growing number of opposition figures that were driven away, as reported by Maru Morales in a post for Crónica Uno. The list includes Antonio Ledezma, Ramón Muchacho, Carlos Vecchio, David Smolansky, Gustavo Marcano, Delson Guárate, Carlos García, Villca Fernández, fellow lawmakers Julio Borges and Gaby Arellano and former chavista honchos Luisa Ortega Díaz, her husband Germán Ferrer and PDVSA’s president under most of Chávez’s rule, Rafael Ramírez.

José Manuel Olivares… now joins a growing number of opposition figures that were driven away

Vecchio left to the United States in 2015 (after spending over 100 days hiding), but most of the aforementioned were forced out in 2017, following a four-month long protest cycle that failed to oust Maduro and stop the National Constituent Assembly’s installation.

After playing a key role in the process against Vecchio, Ortega Díaz, then Prosecutor General, denounced a rupture in the Constitutional order, regarding the Supreme Tribunal’s infamous sentences 155 and 156. Almost five months later, she was boarding a speed boat to Aruba with her husband, accused of extortion by the newly named prosecutor, Tarek William Saab. Smolansky, Marcano, García and Muchacho, mayors from El Hatillo, Lecherías, Mérida and Chacao, fled days before, under enormous pressure and threats. On November 2017, Antonio Ledezma secretly left his house arrest, crossed the Colombian border and eventually made it to Spain (Delson Guárate fled to Colombia under similar circumstances). A few weeks later, Rafael Ramírez was dismissed from his post as Venezuelan ambassador to the UN. He now writes self-apologist posts in aporrea from an unknown location, trying to make people forget his responsibility in the economic tragedy.

Political persecution continued in 2018. In February, Julio Borges, one of the opposition leaders attending the failed Santo Domingo summit, refused to sign the agreement proposed by the Venezuelan government, considering it unfair. He hasn’t returned to Venezuela since then and Maduro threatened to jail him if he ever did. Gaby Arellano has been exiled since April, after learning of an arrest warrant against her following her attendance to a session of the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal appointed by the National Assembly in Bogotá a year ago (this tribunal is also exiled, with three of its members detained).

Still, the cataclysmic decline of the economy threatens to create a serious governability problem in the short term.

Villca Fernández, a student leader who had been held at the Helicoide for over two years, was put on a plane to Perú in June, because “exile” is an actual sentence in revolution, it seems.

“During the last weeks, my wife, mother and brother have received threats again,” Olivares said in a public written statement. “They were threatened (with prosecution) if I didn’t step aside from politics and protests of the health sector. The evil and perversity of this government made them step up their prosecution strategy: They no longer limit to go against me, they now accuse my wife, who recently gave birth.

Mind you, as Morales points out, four other lawmakers still in the country (Tomás Guanipa, Luis Lippa, Adriana D’Elia and Freddy Guevara) also face charges.

In his zeal to keep power, Maduro follows the old Soviet textbook, going against dissidents until everyone’s either jailed or exiled. The strategy has been successful so far, sinking MUD, the Broad Front and the rest of the “traditional” opposition into a state of inaction during the worst economic crisis in Venezuelan history, creating a gap in the political spectrum that chavismo plans to fill with a tailor-made opposition.

Still, the cataclysmic decline of the economy threatens to create a serious governability problem in the short term. This has driven more chavista voices to detach themselves from Maduro, with people like Andrés Izarra asking for immediate regime change. With the mainstream opposition becoming irrelevant and dissidence inside chavismo gaining strength, the outcome of the crisis is impossible to predict. One thing seems sure: For Maduro, anyone who’s not with him, is against him.

And that won’t be tolerated.