In 2016, Lester Toledo dodged Venezuela’s intelligence services, fled the country and became the standard-bearer of political prisoners. Spain granted him the nationality by nature letter and today is spokesman in Europe of the Broad Front , which brings together human rights organizations, students, unions, parties, churches and dissident chavistas. Demands “free” elections against the “scam” of May 20.
What has led collectives that in the past even faced each other to form the Broad Front of Free Venezuela?
The Broad Front of Venezuela arose in response to an organizational demand to unite all the forces that are fighting against Nicolás Maduro. There are organizations that defend human rights, universities, student federations fighting because the youth of Venezuela have no future, businessmen, the churches, both the Catholic and the Evangelical, unions and political parties. And we have the dissident Chavez, people believed in Hugo Chavez and I will not support Nicolás Maduro more. We won an election in 2015 to the National Assembly and the Government ignored the result, closed it and generated a few months ago a kind of narcosoviet that is the National Constituent Assembly that has powers over the Constitution and god, it seems. Faced with this reality, you have to change your way of organizing and this is how the Frente Amplio emerged, with concrete objectives: free and real elections, not those of May 20, which are not an electoral process, they are a scam.
What would these free and fair elections be like?
Where all political actors can participate, they can make their proposals, where there is a qualified electoral observation, where all audits of the technical process are given. In Venezuela, the elections are automated and the software after the elections to the constituent assembly, who managed them for 15 years, denounced that at least two million votes were adulterated. And then there are the political conditions: you have to stop campaigning. In a Spanish key, what Nicolás Maduro is convoking is as if President Rajoy, seeing that he has no majority in Congress, closes it and founds another one, the National Constituent Assembly, with a single election where there is 100% of PP deputies . And then calls elections in two weeks and eliminates by decree the PSOE, Citizens and We can imprison Albert Rivera and disqualifies Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias. But I want the world to recognize me as president of Spain. Since January, the dictatorship of Maduro eliminated the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), the Alliance of Democratic Unity, the First Justice and Popular Will party. The four main leaders of the opposition are imprisoned or disqualified.
If there is an alternative candidate for Maduro, Henri Falcón will face Maduro at the polls.
Henri Falcón does not represent the opposition, he has nothing to do with us. What is the political interest that moves it? If it is because of political blackmail, because they pressured him, if there are economic, political interests, I do not know. But the parties that meet MUD (germ of the Frente Amplio) made a national consultation and the first discussion was whether to participate or not and we all decided not to. And this gentleman said that he wanted to register (as a candidate). Upon their registration, they gave coverage on radio and television channels through the State channel. It is a cover that the Government has put there to validate, to try to wash the face of the election, that there is a chavista and an opponent.
Are not they afraid of being isolated because they do not go to the elections?
Quite the opposite. We are optimistic with the decision we made because we believe that it will have very clear consequences for Nicolás Maduro and that he will accelerate his departure. There are people who say that by letting Maduro go alone and choosing himself, he is going to accumulate more power. We believe that it will accumulate more illegitimacy because today there are people who do not like the Government of Maduro, it has a legitimacy of origin, because it was elected under more or less viable conditions. If he makes the elections on May 20, nobody will recognize his presidency. No one can recognize him and that is what we are going to ask in Europe and that the Congress of Deputies ratify the words of Rajoy, who has said that he does not recognize that choice. Mr. Rajoy and other governments say that they do not recognize that call until there are no conditions, so you can not recognize the result. As of May 20, I do not believe that it accumulates more power, Venezuela is going to be a kind of outlaw state , that does not have Legislative because they closed the assembly and that has no Executive because nobody recognizes the president.
They talk about changing the president, but predictably he will win the elections. Do you expect me to resign, another scenario …?
We hope that Maduro will resign but not of his own will. He is going to resign because the world has to force him. In Venezuela there is a political class that represents more than 80% of the electorate, according to the last elections, and there is a criminal state. They are criminals ruling. A court in New York says that President Maduro’s nephews were taking the drug off the presidential ramp of the airport terminal, stopped by the DEA and are awaiting trial. The vice president, sanctioned by links with terrorism; the minister of Interior and Justice, requested by the DEA and the main ministers of the portfolios that manage the finances, all sanctioned, with blocked accounts and passports blocked by corrupt. Soon that pressure that nobody does business with Venezuela, that nobody lend him a dollar, that serious democratic institutions do not recognize Venezuela, with internal mobilization, is what is going to generate a resignation or a negotiated solution for a transition towards democracy.
How do you rate Rodríguez Zapatero’s role as mediator in the failed talks between the government and the opposition in Santo Domingo?
A shame. I witnessed the document that Mr. Rodríguez Zapatero wanted us to sign on the elections and I want a mediator who wants for Venezuela the same as for his country. Someone who defends human rights and is on the side of truth and justice, seeing this absurdity that the Government wanted to make, had to have stepped aside and he came as a government spokesman to ask us to please sign that.
Maduro agreed to delay the elections as requested by the opposition, from April 22 to May 20 …
That was one of a package of conditions that, while important, is not determinative. With the conditions that exist today, if you put the dates in December, it does not matter.
The EU, the US and more and more Latin American countries demand Maduro clean elections and impose sanctions. But there remain Russia and China, allies of Venezuela.
They are different. China’s interest is purely economic and we have had informal talks with Chinese authorities and we say that we are going to make responsible government and honor the commitments of the nation, everyone. But those who made the last year and a half here, where the Assembly is in contempt and all the commitments were made unilaterally by the Executive, no. If China dares to give a dollar to Nicolás Maduro without that being approved by the National Assembly, that dollar will be lost. We told them to think twice and for a year and a half the information we have is that there have been no significant credits from the Chinese. Russia continues to support the regime financially and is doing illegal business. The Russians have given money to support the dictatorship of Maduro, to buy weapons, rifles, tanks in exchange for future oil exploitation of I do not know how many years. I believe that Russia has a different interest than China, there are political, ideological interests. Venezuela has become the axis of a whole world policy. The US has positions on Syria, Ukraine and Russia says that I will also play in the US backyard.
Even being elected on May 20, will Maduro not arrive as president at the end of his term in 2025?
I am convinced, convinced. The country is ungovernable, that nobody can stand it. Even the military has children and wives and they go to the market and they do not get and they go to the hospital and they do not take them, and they go out into the street and the police do not take care of them. We have more than 40,000 violent deaths in the last year. This is an undeclared war, this can not be endured by any people. In what I believe most is the noble people of Venezuela who will not be silent, people will rebel against this.
What role do you expect the Army to have?
Very important One of our demands is for the armed forces to act in a good way. That allow the constitutional thread that was broken to be restored. I do not believe in a coup d’etat, there is no coup d’etat, it leaves a social scar from which it takes years to recover and I do not think anyone wants to. What they can not do is continue to endorse. There is a clear principle in the armed forces that is the non-recognition of an order that violates human rights. Last year we underestimated the armed forces and we thought that after 4 months of protests they would step forward with the opposition and they would not allow this anymore, as they did in 2002 (the year of the failed coup d’état against Hugo Chávez) and they have always done it. To the military, to send them a message of encouragement, of support and I know that the good ones are the ones who have to act. In the last week he has arrested more than 26 senior ranks of the military establishment. There is an undeclared internal military uprising and the government is hunting down whoever it thinks is a dissident.
Do you expect military contempt?
Yeah right. The call to the military is that here there is a serious government, that the interest is that human rights are fulfilled and that we do not want to persecute or judge anyone, that’s what courts are for. We want to get to govern, make an emergency plan, a country plan, against the humanitarian crisis and be able to reopen the floodgates of Venezuela to go foreign investment and help international organizations to open a humanitarian channel that the Government has refused to that they enter medicines, food, to help the people.
According to this plan, would Maduro retire, would there be elections …?
I see it in two processes. A first process that is a transition. There has to be a relatively short government, among us there are those who believe that it has to be only one year and others who propose up to 3 years of transition. With a civic military junta where the courts give support to a civil government that puts order and prepares the people of Venezuela with strong institutions for a clean and free electoral process where different political currents can present themselves. Surely, Chavismo is going to become opposition, we would make a primary election, we would choose a leader of Unity and that leader would go to an election and govern.
Should a person who remains in Venezuela have preference over those who are in exile to lead the Unit?
The preferences are governed by polls and in the last two, three years, all opinion polls say that the best valued political figure is Leopoldo López.
Is there consensus around the figure of Leopoldo López within the Frente Amplio?
That is subjective. My opinion is that there must be primaries, it’s the most healthy thing. The consensus is the most beautiful, but you can tell that they put it to finger. It raises suspicions.
Does the Venezuelan opposition feel well treated by the Spanish Government?
Well, that depends on how you look at it. I would say that we have reasons to be grateful and that the balance is positive. When we started with this international struggle, the first elected government that received Lilian Tintori (wife of Leopoldo López) was that of President Mariano Rajoy. In these tours, we always saw each other in the lobby of a hotel, in the back of a chancery, without photos, because there was a lot of fear and a lot of care. President Rajoy received us with honor. And then they have made very exceptional help, I am an example: the government blocked my passport and I became stateless and the Government of Spain granted the nationality by nature letter, they gave me a passport. But there are always things to do. There is a claim, the regularization of Venezuelans. They do not come because it’s beautiful or they want to vacation. There is an exodus, people are leaving forced. UNHCR urged the countries of the world to give treatment to Venezuelan refugees days ago. The OAS rafificada this request, they are refugees, they are like the Syrians, attend them. The cases of asylum application in the last 3 years in Spain are less than 20,000 and there has been a response to less than 100. In 2005, Zapatero legalized with just one decree more than 800,000 people who were here and they are not 20,000 and the response they are receiving from the Spanish government is not up to the circumstances.
Would you like to have a regularization of Venezuelans as the general Zapatero did in 2005?
We request the regularization of the Venezuelans who are here. I do not want to be part of an elite, not because they were Spanish, but Venezuelans do not know anyone, no. If I have to give my passport to be part of those Venezuelans who are fighting to have the same rights, I would be willing.
In the manifestation that they summoned in Madrid of the 17 of March there were representatives of PP, PSOE, C’s. Would you have liked to have seen representatives of Podemos?
The struggle for human rights can not have borders. Neither geographical nor ideological. Parties of left, right and center throughout Europe have supported the struggle of Venezuelans and those who admit that Nicolás Maduro is a dictator, that there are political prisoners, a humanitarian crisis and that they are doing a process that is not electoral, welcome. Until now the position of the lords of Podemos has been to justify everything that the dictatorship of Maduro does. But politics say that it is the art of the possible . If tomorrow, these gentlemen change their position, as some Chavistas are changing, wake up magically and find that this is a dictatorship and decide to support us, if there are not as many resources as they have been financed in the past, and decide to say that they are in against that, welcome to the fight. But I think it’s not your status today.
Has Venezuela become a throwaway weapon in Spanish politics?
No. It is a blessing that the Venezuelan issue has served in the US, Europe and Latin America as an example for the bad. What interests us is to feel that the world knows our problems, that people care … I think it’s good, I’m very respectful of national politics, I am not a member of any party here, I respect politics here and in all countries but for us it is a blessing to talk about Venezuela. First so that you know what is happening and, secondly, that governments do something, because the solidarity that I lend you a cloth and I cry with you is not enough, you have to do things and pressures is the greatest diplomatic tool that governments have to show their repulsion for what is happening there.