Venezuelan opposition leader: ‘It is the freedom-fight of the 21st century’

Julio Borges is the only member of the opposition shortlisted for the prize who is not under arrest or in exile. [Miguel Gutiérrez/ EFE]

Julio Borges, president of the Venezuelan parliament, is the only opposition leader who is not imprisoned among those shortlisted for this year’s edition of the Sakharov prize on freedom of thought. EURACTIV’s partner EuroEFE reports.

Julio Borges spoke with EuroEFE’s Héctor Pereira in Caracas.

Borges argues that the European Parliament’s recognition must fall on the Venezuelan parliament, held by the opposition. It is the only institution “representing the people”, he said, and he described it as “besieged” by the National Constituent Assembly, supporting President Nicolas Maduro.

Elected only two years ago, it was the parliament who held most votes in the country’s history and “has led its fights in and out of Venezuela”, the president declared.

“The freedom fight of the 21st century”

A prominent figure of the Venezuelan opposition, Guatemalan indigenous activist Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic and Eritrean writer Dawit Isaak are the other shortlisted candidates for the prize, which will be awarded on 26 October.

EU Sakharov prize shortlist revealed

The Venezuelan opposition, a Guatemalan indigenous leader and an imprisoned Eritrean writer were shortlisted on Tuesday (10 October) for the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize.

Suggested by the centre-right EPP and the liberal ALDE groups, the Venezuelan bid unites opposition figures, currently under house arrest, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, other “political heavyweights” like Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González.

“We are – said Borges – part of the same team: Venezuelans, politicians, parliament and opposition leaders imprisoned or exiled who have been fighting for the same objective: to have freedom of thought, human rights and full democracy in Venezuela.”

Venezuela “is leading the biggest freedom-fight in the 21st century”, said Borges, and this is something that “all democracies in the world” understand.

“We are months away from a political change if we have the conditions and keep up the pressure to have presidential elections”, planned for 2018.

Borges said the opposition will continue working to “guarantee the vote” and “that people feel confident” in this system as a formula for political change, although he denounced that “in all previous elections, the government has destroyed confidence in the vote “.

Venezuela’s opposition has rejected the official result of the regional elections of 15 October – where chavismo swept 18 of the 23 governorates of the country – as well as the “fraudulent” election of the Constituent Assembly.

According to this political leader, in the regional elections, the regime of Nicolás Maduro controlled the vote “through hunger, [using] electronic ration cards that people had to present to be able to vote, through the coercion of public employees and through political and armed control in the polling stations.”

A second Cuba

According to Borges, Maduro wants to turn Venezuela into “a kind of second Cuba” but with a “big difference”: Venezuela has “the world’s most important gold, gas and oil reserves” and in the hands of a government like the current one, that turns it into “a centre of destabilisation not only for Latin America but also in Europe and good part of the world”.

“With all the Venezuelan wealth in oil, gas, gold… we have sick people who do not get medicine and die or do not receive the treatments and get worse. We have millions of people who left the country because there is no future, there is no freedom, there are no guarantees,” he continued.

Now in its thirtieth edition, the Sakharov Prize was awarded numerous times to dissidents and opposition figures, most recently to Belarusian Alexandr Milinkevich in 2006.

In the case of Cuba, Oswaldo Payá was honored in 2002, the Ladies in White (wives of dissidents in prison) in 2005 and Guillermo Fariñas in 2010.

In 2015, the EPP also pushed the candidacy of the Venezuelan opposition alliance Mesa de Unidad Democrática, which did not make the shortlist for the prize.

That same year, the opposition headed by Borges ended up getting the majority in the Parliament.

According to European Parliament President Antonion Tajani, a dictatorship has been imposed in Venezuela

For Tajani, there is no doubt that a “dictatorship” has been imposed in Venezuela.

“Instead of listening to his people, President Maduro has violated the sacred principle of the separation of powers and reinforced his authoritarian regime to – we should not be afraid to say – establish a dictatorship,” he wrote on September 20 in an article for Spanish news agency EFE.

“Imposing a National Constituent Assembly and usurping the powers of the National Assembly, sole and legitimate representative of the citizens after the December 2015 elections, is characteristic of a dictatorial regime,” he argued.

The world, he claimed, “can not close its eyes” to what happens in Venezuela and has already led the United States to impose sanctions on Maduro’s regime.

“Europe, however, drags its feet when it should follow that same path”, he concluded.

Tajani promised that the European Parliament “will continue very actively” to be vigilant on Venezuela, after passing resolutions that demand the release of the political prisoners, the respect of the powers of the National Assembly and an electoral calendar.

EU does not recognise Venezuela’s new assembly and warns about sanctions

The EU said on Wednesday (2 August) that it would not recognise the new Venezuela assembly but it did not impose any sanctions for now.

Borges assured that the Venezuelan opposition and the Parliament that he chairs will persist in their denunciations “inside and outside” the country, to get other governments to put more pressure on that of Maduro.

The Sakharov, a prize with “enormous significance”

His objective, he said, is “to build a healthy democracy, of progress and social justice for the country (to) eradicate, through popular struggle, new attempts by a left-wing dictatorship.”

And in that struggle, the possibility of receiving a Sakharov Prize “has an enormous significance because it is a very clear support for the democratic struggle in Venezuela […] it is a prize that not only enhances human rights but the fight for freedom of thought.”All those who have fought for Venezuela’s democracy “have done their best” and “there are people who have given their whole life,” he recalled.

For this reason, “everyone must be a winner if we achieve this distinction which is the most important prize for peace and human rights in Europe.”

Looking back on 30 years of the Sakharov Prize

Political dissidents, journalists, writers, peace and human rights activists, citizen movements and NGOs have won the European prize that bears the name of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and this year marks its thirtieth edition. EURACTIV Spain reports.