As the United States backs Juan Guaidó’s opposition party in Venezuela, intensifying the standoff between Guaidó and the government of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, there are efforts underway to find a solution through mediation. German Bundestag member Andrej Hunko of left-wing party Die Linke recently returned from a 10-day factfinding trip to Venezuela. He spoke withThe Real News Network’s Greg Wilpert about what he learned about Maduro’s support within Venezuela, the possibility for negotiation, and lifting sanctions.
“For Mr. Guaidó, at the moment, negotiations are seen as a strategy of the government to gain time. He’s seeing that negotiations only would help stabilize the government. So at the moment, he’s not so much interested in negotiations,” Hunko said. “He didn’t refuse in general, but it seems that the current strategy is to have a very short-term overthrow of Maduro.”
Hunko explained Maduro is more open to negotiations than Guaidó but fears that U.S. intervention poses challenges to negotiations because “most of the negotiation partners are dependent on US politics.” Moreover, Maduro’s government is stronger now than it was two months ago. Fears of a successful coup have diminished.
“I don’t have the impression that the Maduro government is near a collapse. It’s not only the military backing the government. It is at least a significant part of the Venezuelan population, especially in the favelas and the poorer areas of Venezuela. And it seems that in late January, it was maybe closer to tumble the government to be thrown over—than now,” Hunko said. “After the threats of the U.S. and economic sanctions, I heard a lot of voices critical to Maduro, but saying they are opposed to these military threats and would support the government against these threats and against economic sanctions.”
Along with meeting opposition leaders, including Guaidó, Guaidó supporters, social movement leaders, President Maduro, and Maduro supporters, Hunko met with representatives of the Platform for the Defense of the Constitution, which is mostly made up of critical Chavistas.
“They are thinking of what could be a way to regain constitutional order,” Hunko said. “And then, for example, the proposal to have a new central electoral board first, and to have a referendum of the Venezuelan people to hold if there should be new general elections, which should include presidential and parliamentary elections.”
Hunko also met with Laetitia Courtois, who represents the International Red Cross in Venezuela, who said the Red Cross had not had any problems dealing with the Maduro government or so-called colectivos. What was clear, Hunko added, was the economic sanctions on Venezuela continue to hurt Venezuelans. Considering these negotiation-based solutions, and lifting sanctions and allowing humanitarian aid to enter the country, would fix the crisis.
“I think the central question is, is there a political will for this?” Hunko said. “Is there a political will inside Venezuela? And is there a political will in the international community?”
GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. As the standoff between the government of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on one side, and the opposition and the United States on the other side deepens, the effort to find a solution through mediation continues. Just this week, the so-called international contact group of 11 countries, which includes various countries of Europe and of Latin America, met in Costa Rica for their third meeting. This group, which was launched in Uruguay last February, aims to facilitate a negotiated solution to the political crisis in Venezuela. However, no definite results have come out of this process yet. Meanwhile, Andrej Hunko, a member of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, returned from a 10-day fact-finding trip to Venezuela last week where he met with opposition leaders, including Juan Guaido, social movement leaders, Maduro supporters, and President Maduro himself. Andrej Hunko joins us now from Berlin, Germany. He’s a member of Germany’s left party, Die Linke. Thanks for being here again, Andrej.
ANDREJ HUNKO Hi. Hi. Hello.
GREG WILPERT So let’s begin with the issue of a negotiated solution for Venezuela, since that was just in the news. You met with National Assembly President, Juan Guaido, and with President Maduro. What was your impression of your meeting with these two leaders? How did the meetings compare and what were their respective positions with regard to finding a negotiated solution?
ANDREJ HUNKO Yes. I think the problem at the moment is that for a part of the opposition at least, for Mr. Guaido, at the moment, negotiations are seen as a strategy of the government to gain time. He’s seeing that negotiations only would help stabilize the government. So at the moment, he’s not so much interested in negotiations. He didn’t refuse in general, but it seems that the current strategy is to have a very short-term overthrow of Maduro. And Maduro, on the other side, I spoke with him as well about the possibility of dialogue and negotiations. And he underlined that he is open for negotiation, but he says it doesn’t make sense if the counterpart of the negotiation is breaking the talks after the intervention of the US. He says that most of the negotiation partners are dependent on US politics. And this happened, for example, before the last presidential election or, as well, mentioned negotiations or at least talks in November and December with four high-ranking opposition leaders, which were interrupted in the end by the opposition parties. So in general, I would say everybody says in general, it’s open for negotiation but when it comes to concrete details, then it becomes to be difficult.
GREG WILPERT Now, the implication of the opposition stance, which you basically said, is that it would be faster for them, at least from their perspective, to achieve a change of government via insurrection instead of negotiations. What was your impression from your meetings with Venezuelans? Did Maduro or anyone else who supports the government, give you the impression that US threats and the sanctions would cause the government to resign or collapse anytime soon?
ANDREJ HUNKO No. I don’t have the impression that the Maduro government is near a collapse. It’s not only the military backing the government. It is at least a significant part of the Venezuelan population, especially in the favelas and the poorer areas of Venezuela. And it seems that in late-January, it was maybe closer to tumble the government to be thrown over, than now. After the threats of the US and economic sanctions, I heard a lot of voices critical to Maduro but saying they are opposed to these military threats and would support the government against these threats and against economic sanctions. So it seems now that even Maduro has more support than two months ago.
GREG WILPERT Now, you also met with Laetitia Courtois who represents the International Red Cross in Venezuela. What did she tell you about the humanitarian situation and the possibility of introducing humanitarian aid to Venezuela, since that was a pretty big issue recently?
ANDREJ HUNKO Yes. Because the International Red Cross is working since a long time there, it’s not a new issue. They are working on very basic issues. And she said, and I asked her several times, she said they don’t have any problems with the government or as well with the so-called colectivos. They can do their work. Of course, they need some kind of cooperation. And I really asked her several times, do you have any problems? Are you threatened, for example, by the colectivos? Because this is what the German government is saying, and she denied. She very clearly said, no, we don’t have these kinds of problems and we can do our work. And, of course, she was calling for more support of the international community. And I think this would be important to support, that this is very important work.
Of course, the situation is problematic. We have some kind of humanitarian people problem. You mentioned, for example, the problem of water, bringing water to the prisons, for example. And if, for example, the electricity is broken or if you have other heat problems in the [inaudible], then at the least the weakest point of delivering, for example, water to prisons, and these kinds of things. These are the first points, they are stopped, or they cannot be delivered. So, I think the economic sanctions on Venezuela, they are very clearly tackling the weakest in society.
GREG WILPERT Now you also met with representatives of the Platform for the Defense of the Constitution, which is mostly critical Chavistas, as they’re called. Tell us about their proposal. And could you also get a sense of how much support their proposal has within Venezuela?
ANDREJ HUNKO Well I had a different meeting with critical Chavistas. They have different proposals of how to solve, let’s say, technically this situation in Venezuela, the Plataforma. They said that we have a situation of a divided [inaudible] are divided out of the Constitution and they are thinking of what could be a way to regain constitutional order. And then, for example, the proposal to have a new central electoral board first, and to have a referendum of the Venezuelan people to hold if there should be new general elections, which should include presidential and parliamentary elections. And this referendum is, could be positive than to have general elections let’s say, within a timeframe of nine months.
All in all, this is the one, I would say, could be one way which could work if there is the political will for this, and this should be supported according to Plataforma by international support, by lifting the economic sanctions, by bringing in humanitarian aid, to have some kind of motivation for this process. So this is, for example, one proposal. Another proposal, for example, we’ll take one of Victor Alvarez. As well, former Chavez minister, he’s, for example, calling for some kind of national unity government of [inaudible] government, opposition government, and then have a break for first parliamentary and then presidential election. And the same with international support by lifting the sanctions and bringing in humanitarian aid. So these are, I would say, they are very good proposals how the crisis would be solved, but I think the central question is, is there a political will for this? Is there a political will inside Venezuela? And, is there a political will in the international community? I think that’s the last thing, at the moment, a big problem.
GREG WILPERT Now, finally, last time we had you on The Real News was to talk about the internal investigation of the Bundestag and how it found that recognizing Guaido as parallel president was probably in violation of international law. Now has there been any reaction from the Merkel government to this finding since then? And how is Merkel dealing with Venezuela now?
ANDREJ HUNKO Well I would say it’s some kind of small, maybe quite small, change just in the politics towards Venezuela, but not of the general line. For example, some government, the foreign minister are still supporting Guaido. He supported him on the 30th of April, during the coup d’état when Minister Heiko Maas was in Colombia and Brazil but, for example, it’s different to the US. The German government did not recognize the representative of Mr. Guaido, Mr. Otto Gebauer as Ambassador in Germany. I heard about the debates about the Venezuelan embassy in the US. A little different, so the embassy is the same, like before. They are connected to Maduro and Arreaza, the prime minister of Venezuela, and Germany is cooperating with them, at least on some kind of technical level. And the representative of Mr. Guaido is only seen as the representative of Mr. Guaido, not as ambassador of Venezuela. So there’s some kind of in-between position of Germany, but still the main line is looking for short-term overthrow of the Maduro government and still with the political backing of Mr. Guaido and even political backing of the coup attempt on the 30th of April. And this is the politics that we as the Left Party are criticizing still very adamantly.
GREG WILPERT Okay. Well we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Andrej Hunko, member of Germany’s Bundestag for the Left Party. Thanks, Andrej, for having joined us again.
ANDREJ HUNKO Thank you very much.
GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.