National Lawyers Guild President Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan discusses the U.S. interests and the rhetoric of Hillary Clinton leading up to Venezuela’s parliamentary elections
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. The Venezuelan National Assembly is up for grabs in this Sunday’s election. Voters will decide whether the current governing party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, will remain in power or whether opposition parties will hold a majority in the country’s only national legislative assembly. Closely monitoring the election is of course the international community, in particular the United Nations. And our guest today says the United States has a record of meddling in past elections and in this one. Now joining us from Caracas, Venezuela, is Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan. She’s a human rights lawyer and president of the National Lawyers Guild. Thanks for joining us, Natasha. NATASHA LYCIA ORA BANNAN: Thank you for having me, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: So Natasha, I want to try to speak to specific examples that we can point to that prove that the United States meddles in elections, and specifically this election. Are there some sort of examples, even rhetorical examples, of how the United States is meddling? BANNAN: I think you just kind of named it. And just to get at the point here’s really that there’s really heated rhetoric around Venezuela, constantly around Venezuela, from the part of the United States. Particularly when it comes to Venezuela’s electoral system. And this continuously happens every time Venezuela has elections, particularly critical elections that can be seen as giving way to the opposition and to eventual regime change. Hillary Clinton just spoke this week in a speech to the Atlantic Council signifying her disapproval at the way the [Maduro] administration has been handling pre-election processes, and basically suggesting that there’s been tampering with the electoral system, including treatment of supposed political prisoners. Who is unclear, though I suspect she refers to Leopoldo Lopez, who by many of our standards and by international standards is not a political prisoner. But the rhetoric of the United States towards Venezuela and towards Venezuela’s elections and electoral system has always been extremely hostile, has always been disapproving, and has always suggested that if the results aren’t what the United States wishes them to be that somehow there’s been fraud that’s been exercised, despite the fact that the system has been declared by a former United States president, Jimmy Carter, as the most transparent and accountable electoral system in the world. DESVARIEUX: The next question is an obvious one: why? What’s the United States’ motivation in doing so? BANNAN: It’s a great question, and someday maybe we’ll get to ask the United States that. In the meantime there’s a couple of reasons that I presume, and that many of us presume. One is a political reason, which is that Venezuela has basically been the linchpin of a movement towards the left of governments in Latin America that have basically decided that they are tired of U.S. interventionism, both military and economic interventionism, which are often related, in the region. And that U.S. efforts historically have really served to undermine democracy and democratic movements in the region, and to undermine people’s movements and a progression towards the realization of full human rights, which include economic and social rights. Venezuela has a different political vision for its country and for its people. A vision that is not necessarily in alignment with the United States’ vision of what it determines democracy to be or what it determines as its vision for the region, based on its own economic and political interests. Venezuela obviously also has a large source of oil and oil supply, and plays a very important geopolitical role in that sense, as well. And so whoever controls Venezuela, whoever is politically in control of Venezuela, and whether or not they’re determined to be an ally of the United States, obviously plays a critical role for the United States and how they interfere in the region’s and in the country’s political processes. Electoral processes being one of those. DESVARIEUX: All right, Natasha. Let’s fast-forward a little bit and talk about what might transpire on Sunday. A lot of people are looking at the opposition bloc as having a really, possible, strong lead here, 30-point lead in some polls. The price of oil has dropped, hurting the economy. There’s shortages and triple-digit inflation in Venezuela. It’s not really a great situation to be in if you’re up for reelection. How have the policies of the Maduro government really hurt the government’s chances of staying in power? BANNAN: I think it’s important first to mention, and not do what the United States has been doing, including Secretary Clinton, which is predict what the outcome will be. This is a–the epitome of the democratic process. The people will ultimately vote and they will make their voices heard on Sunday, and that will be what will be. That will be the decision. So I just think it’s important for us to be mindful of that, that there’s no clear indicator or predictor of what the outcome on Sunday will be, and that we should respect whatever process is in place, and the people’s choice. You know, Venezuela is going through a very critical moment. A very harsh economic moment. Which is not separated from foreign policies that have been enacted on Venezuela, including the role of the United States, for example, implementing sanctions against Venezuela several days after it decided that it was harmful policy towards Cuba, it decided to implement sanctions in Venezuela. And there’s implications of that. You know, there is, as you mentioned, the price of oil has gone down. There’s dramatic inflation in Venezuela. There’s obviously concerns around safety and security. There’s a lot of really legitimate concerns here. But what hasn’t been talked about is the role that the government has played, both despite the economic hardships that it’s going through to try to maintain its commitment to the social and economic programs and progress that it’s made over the last 16 years so that people still are able to have their basic needs met of housing and healthcare and food, and dignified employment, but also to try to respond within the country and also through the regional mechanisms, whether it’s regional development banks or regional political buys to try to address the economic crisis that’s going on. DESVARIEUX: All right. Natasha, joining us from Venezuela. I know you’ll be out there on Sunday observing the elections. Thank you so much for being with us. BANNAN: Thank you for having me. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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