The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Venezuela’s epic quest to recover its democracy

Medical staff carry a boy suffering from the effects of tear gas during a protest against President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Caracas on May 30. (Federico Parra/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Maria Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) is a leader of the opposition, head of the Vente Venezuela party and a former member of the Venezuelan National Assembly.

Venezuela is suffering a political, economic, social and moral nightmare that has turned our country into a failed state in the hands of criminals. Though there is a formula for halting and reversing this tragedy, time is clearly working against us. The cost of overcoming the crisis is immense, but not confronting it decisively, as we have already begun to do so, will have unbearable consequences.

It is urgent that we set out along this path.

With his latest dictatorial action of illegally convening a Constituent Assembly, Nicolás Maduro has shut the door on Venezuela’s last opportunity for a purely electoral solution. All institutional channels for demanding change – such as a presidential recall referendum and regional elections – had already been blocked by a regime that systematically violates civil liberties and human rights in order to remain in power.

Having no other recourse through which to assert our will, Venezuelans have poured onto the streets in protest for over 50 straight days, in an epic quest for the recovery of our democracy. Our resolve is irreversible, despite the regime’s brutal response to our plight.

Fifty-seven citizens, most of them in their early twenties, have been killed. Thousands have been injured. And over 2,500 have been detained arbitrarily, some being summarily tried and sentenced by military courts, all for having exercised their constitutional right to peaceful protest.

Maduro’s regime can no longer hide its dictatorial nature from the world. International support for the democratic cause is overwhelming and internal support for the regime is eroding with every passing day. Former government loyalists, such as the Prosecutor General and justices of the Supreme Tribunal, have wisely chosen to stand by the Constitution and not by those who flagrantly violate it. Eighty percent of Venezuela’s population demands a change in government. Faced with this inescapable fact, and no longer able to silence it, the small ruling clique has had no choice but to radicalize its repressive, murderous agenda even further.

The immediate course of action for change is clear and tangible. The following sequence of events will allow us to forge ahead:

Out on the streets, as Venezuelans, we will continue to escalate pressure by means of firm and peaceful protests, a fundamental right that is enshrined in our Constitution.

The armed forces must obey and enforce our Constitution. Soldiers must stop aiming their weapons at a defenseless citizenry fighting for their freedom. We expect that they will soon begin disobeying orders that require them to do so.

The international community must continue to remind the Venezuelan armed forces, and everyone in the chain of command, that crimes against humanity committed by the regime’s repressors have no statute of limitations and will not go unpunished.

The National Assembly, elected through the votes of 14 million Venezuelans in December 2015, shall be recognized as the only branch of government with sufficient legitimacy of origin, attributes and capabilities necessary to safeguard an orderly process of transition to democracy.

The country’s political leadership is urgently committed to establishing a broad National Accord that will encompass all sectors of society, including all sympathizers of the current government who are willing to take part in a pluralistic framework and to adhere to the tenets of liberty, democracy, justice and universal human rights.

This National Accord, based on the undeniable legitimacy of the National Assembly, will give way to a transitional government of democratic unity, tasked with the mission of reestablishing the rule of law – and sanity – in Venezuela.

This process will prioritize the provision of humanitarian aid needed to put an end to our country’s health and hunger crisis, while addressing the internal security risks that stem from armed paramilitary elements threatening stability and governance. It will also enact measures aimed at immediate stabilization of the economy, as well as the crucial institutional recovery of our justice system and electoral branch. All political prisoners will be released.

Once the rule of law has been affirmed, the transitional government will be under the obligation to call for presidential elections, in a reasonable and prompt time frame. It is through free, universal, transparent and internationally observed elections that citizens will elect a new legitimate government and usher in a sovereign Venezuela.

Today, Venezuela is paying with the dear blood of our youth for the deliberate impoverishment of an entire nation, carried out by a corrupt elite through obscene, complicit deception. Rest assured that lessons have been learned. Dignity should not be mistaken for naivete. These are the final days of a brutish, mafia-style dictatorship, and we must maintain our guard as it prepares its final, desperate blows.

Now that we have understood our power in the path to freedom, Venezuela is more united than ever. We have arrived at the point where victory is palpable. Freedom is finally within our reach.