Thu, Nov 26, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan opposition talks future

DEC. 6 ELECTIONS:Democratic Unity leader Jesus Torrealba said a priority would be an amnesty and an end to the jailing of opposition leaders and other activists

Reuters, CARACAS

Venezuela’s opposition plans to prioritize laws to free jailed activists and reform the crisis-hit economy if it wins Dec. 6 elections to take control of the legislature away from the ruling socialists for the first time in 16 years.

However, there would be no “witch hunt” against foes or any rush toward a recall referendum to try to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Democratic Unity coalition head Jesus Torrealba said in an interview.

“If we take control of the National Assembly simply to say ‘We are going to recall so-and-so,’ then it would be perceived by the country as a tit-for-tat measure and that could split the electorate who are behind us in their majority now,” Torrealba said at his spartan headquarters, shared with an opposition newspaper.

After losing multiple elections since 1998 to Venezuela’s socialist “Chavismo” movement, named for founder and former president Hugo Chavez, polls show the opposition with its best chance to win the legislature.

Victory could enable it to chip away at Maduro’s power by holding ministers to account, approving or rejecting budgets, and influencing appointments to judicial and electoral authorities

The economic crisis has battered Maduro’s approval ratings, although he retains a hard core of support from Venezuelans still devoted to the memory of Chavez and scared the opposition will dismantle state welfare projects.

Electoral district geography and superior campaign resources also favor the government, meaning the outcome may be tighter than confident opposition strategists think.

Torrealba said the opposition’s priority in the 167-seat legislature would be an amnesty and reconciliation law to end the jailing and alleged persecution of opposition leaders and other indigenous, union or environmental activists who have fallen out with the government.

“We have to unite the country. It has been torn apart, bitterly divided for 16 years by demagogic and cruel discourse,” said the 57-year-old former community TV show host, activist and teacher.

Recession and other economic woes from the world’s highest inflation rate to shortages of many basic goods are the main factors weighing on Venezuelans ahead of the Dec. 6 vote. Economists see no easy fix to problems rooted in heavy dependence on oil, and rigid currency and price controls.

Torrealba said an opposition-led National Assembly would seek to alleviate the crisis by stimulating production, reversing nationalizations, increasing the central bank’s autonomy and improving salaries and pensions.

“They’ve subjected the Venezuelan people to the same sacrifices as a structural adjustment program — but without any of its benefits,” he said. “Nowhere in the world is an oil producer, an OPEC member in a situation like us... The depth of the crisis is difficult to exaggerate.”

Maduro has mocked Torrealba as looking like an “evil Shrek,” and the government accuses his coalition of being “closet coup-plotters” who want to put Venezuela’s oil wealth in the hands of the elite.

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