Waves of anti-government protests continue to rock Venezuela as its economic and political crises deepen.
Is there a way forward?
In this UpFront special, we speak to the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, about his stance on Venezuela.
And in the Arena, we debate whether the Venezuelan government is authoritarian.
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Detected Closed Captioning: Political Chaos Protests On The Street Dozens Killed The Head Of The Organization Of American States As Venezuela Has Turned Into A Dictatorship but Is He Right [Music] [Music] I'm Madi Husson Venezuela's Political Crisis Is Escalating Fast With The Economy In Freefall Protesters Have Hit The Streets And Violence Is On The Rise Has The Venezuelan Government Gone authoritarian That's Our Debate In The Arena And As A Result Of The Crisis president Nicolas Maduro In Particular Is Facing Mounting Criticism From International Observers One Of His Fiercest Critics Has Been Luis Almagro The Head Of The Organization Of American States The OAS In Washington DC Who Was Called A Maduro A Petty Dictator Maduro Called Him A CIA Agent this Week's Headliner OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro Luis Almagro Thanks For Joining Me On Upfront The Situation In Venezuela Is Pretty Dire Right Now You Have A Massive Economic Crisis There rampant Inflation Hospitals Running Out Of Medicines Protests That Have Led To dozens Of Deaths You've Called For president Nicolas Maduro To Stand Down and For A New Presidential Election To Be Held ASAP But What's The Actual likelihood Of That Happening This Is another Struggle For Power It's A Struggle For Democracy What We Need There Are Elections If Maduro Wins Elections That's Fine For Me The Problem Here Is That Fundamental Freedoms And Human Rights A Completely Put Down By The Regime That Is Killing People In The Streets Killing Peaceful Demonstrators that A Regime That Completely Has His Hands With Blood And That Is The Main Problem That We Have In The Country that's Why When You Have A Detector The Only Way Out He Our Democratic Elections I Mean We Have Called For That Do You Actually Think That's Gonna Happen It's what I'm Asking They Will Have To Happen already Tater Chips Have Fallen Down okay So At The Moment You Call A Dictatorship And We'll Come Back To whether Or Not It Is A Dictatorship The Venezuelan Government Will Point Out that They Are An Elected Government They Won An Election In 2018 They're Saying There Will Be Another Presidential election They Say Your Organization The OAS Has Become An Inquisition Tribunal And The Question Is Why Not Let The Democratic Process Play Out You Say You Support Democracy Wait For The Next Presidential Elections Wait For Maduro To Win Or Lose You Know What Is A problem The Legitimacy Of The Government elections Should Be Heard Last Year Last year Presidential Election Recall Referendum The Record Referenda That Was Stolen from The People That Was Needed To Have The The Venezuelan Government Needed To Have It Last Year They Didn't Do It And That Is The Biggest Problem They're cheating Maseeh Of Origin Was Completely Killed Then Because The Government Would say There Were Irregularity Of Signatures Internal Process At Least Not but It Was An Electric Government You Accept That Maduro Was Elected To Office what Dana French Election That Was Accepted By The OAS The USD But What They Say Is The Legitimacy Of Origin Of This Government Was Killed When They Denied The Record Referendum To The People Okay We'll Come Back To The Whole Democratic Nature Of The Government Just On You And The OAS And The Position You've Taken When You Were Foreign Minister Of Uruguay You Were Full Of Praise For Chavez And Said He Had reinvented Latin America For President Hugo Chavez Medoras Predecessor And That Everybody Should Follow His Example You Said Even As Recently As 2015 You Called president Maduro A Friend And Said He Wanted To Do Good For The People Of Venezuela How Have You Gone From Saying That To Saying Venezuela Is A Dictatorship That Maduro Is A Traitor To His People In The Space Of 18 Months yeah Because Things Happened Since Then and What Things Happen And The Completely Duration Of The Institutions In Venezuela Lack Of Elections For Regional Or Governor's Or The Record Referendum And They Have Put Down The Separation And Independence Of Different branches Of Government They Co-opted The Judicial Power That All Happened Since You Called Him A Good Friend Of You They Have Not There Was No Issue Today You Call Them A Good Friend Everything Was Fine In But Look If You See This These crises Have Been Triggered By The Election Of The National Assembly In December 2015 I That's That's Thing And That's The Problem When It Thinks All The Problems has Started And What We Are Fighting here Is For Democracy And Human Rights what We Are Like Fighting Here Separation Of Different Branches Of government Before They Add Independent judiciary And In The Short Term You Want to Stop The Value Have Political Prisoners Okay That Is What We Have Right And In The Short Term I'm Guessing You Want To Stop The Violence And Get Some Kind Of Resolution Peaceful Resolution I'm Guessing Is That The OAS is Go That Is The Idea Of The Years Of Work And The Meeting Of Minister Of Foreign Affairs For The Next 30 Photos So Let Me Ask You This The OAS Your Organization The Organization Of American States It's Been Described As A Sort Of Un For The Western Hemisphere By Some It Could Have Perhaps Played A Mediating Role Between the Government And The Opposition In Venezuela Had You Not Come Out So strongly Against The Government Even Your Former Boss Jose Pepe Mujica Former President Of Uruguay You Served Under him As Foreign Minister Even He Said That What You're Doing Is Dangerous And that With Regards To Venezuela You should Be Trying To Quote Be A Bridge And Not Take Sides It's Got A Point As he Know Because I Am Permanently Building Bridges I Am Permanent Making Proposals I Am Primarily Looking For Member Government's Looking Expectations And Trade I Said Is That Sailing Bridge If What They Said Is If You Don't Have The Record Referendum Then You Will Lose Your Legitimacy Of Origin And Then You Will Become A Potato-chip so They're Not A Petty Dictatorship Right Now Yes They Are Look Laws They Have Not Anything That Helps Bring Them You Think That Helps Right Whether They Are Or Not Put That To One Side For A Moment And We Will come Back To That Do You Think Such Language To Listen To The Former president Uruguay Your Former Boss Do You Think That Helps Build Bridges And Bring People To The Table The Program Is Impunity You We Cannot Provide Impunity To This Kind Of Actions when You Are We Are Talking About People Dying So You Would Rather We Have A Rather We Are Talking About Them We Have To Actually Come To A Solution We Are Talking About A Regime That Has Bled In science We Are Talking About The Regime distractibility Selfishness We Are Talking About The Recent Condemnation And Torture People And The Knowledge Defending The Mysteries That The Symbols That We Have An Agenda An Agenda what Is The Request Agenda The Agenda requests To Have And The Recognition Of The National Assembly To Happen In The Pegs And Asia To Get Those Things To come Chumash You Recall Reference Of A Diplomatic Process Any More Political pressure So How Do You Get That Youjin is Made A Great One Make The Regime How Do You Know In Venezuela Table These Are Not Worth These Masks official Question This Isn't A Joke It's Not An Action To Say Use On The Greys Video Presents These An Aspiration De How'd You Get In Down Does Your Language Help Bring Venezuela To Table Yes Or No Yes It Does Are Then Coming To The Table at The End Us Are They Coming To The next Airways Meeting If You This Is A very Simple Are They Coming To The Next OS Me I Will Answer The Previous question Because You Made An Order Of These Questions And So I Will Run And Then I Will Answer This One Anytime That They Have A Problem In The Continent I Work On The Basis Of Dialogue Mediation And Negotiation I Have Done That With All The Countries In This Region With Venezuela These Proposals Reach At The Government I Am Completely Sure And They Were Reasonable Solutions For The Institutional Crisis That The Country Has So The Bridges Are Permanently There And I Am Perfectly Working On This bridge So You Get Outs And These Are They Coming To The Next OS Meeting Yes but You Know You're Not Examing Then You're Not Coming To Your Language Hasn't Hope Bringing Data But You Know What But That Is Something That You should Know This Meeting That Will Be Held The 31st Of May Was A Meeting proposed By The Countries Out Of The Procedure Of The Inter-american Democratic Charter That We Activated Some A Some Months Ago The Thing Is That This Activation Of This Different Procedure That Is The Consult Of The Meeting Of Minister Of Foreign Affairs Is In Parallel Of What We Have Been doing So The Presence Or Not Presence Is Mostly Related To The Different Actions in A Different Pattern That The Cooze Initiative Was Initiative Of The Countries And I Completely Support In An Open Letter To The Imprisoned Venezuelan Opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez In August Of 2016 Who You Addressed In That Letter As An Esteemed Friend You Said That He Embodies The Hope Of The People Now Of course There Shouldn't Be Any Political prisoners In Any Country In Latin America I Think We All Agree On That But should You Really Be So Openly Siding With The Opposition And In Particular With An Opposition Leader Who's Been Linked To The 2002 Coup Attempt Against President Chavez And Who Even The US State Department Once Said Has A Reputation For Being Quite Arrogant vindictive And Power-hungry is How He Was Described Yeah But What What Part Of The Question do You Want Me To Answer All Of Them I Guess So Well Should You Be Survived If I'm Not I'm Not On The Side Of The opposition He Really Is Extracted When You Call Someone A Lot Of The People Sounds Less Analyzer To Struggle For Democracy And Struggle For Democracy What Does It Mean That Nobody Can Be injured Because Oprah You Don't Say I Hope You Should Be Released From Prison alone You Said You Are The Hope Of The People My Esteemed Friend Yeah Sounds Pretty Biased But No But Once It Was he's Free Once The Poll The Locusts It's Free He Was Really Steamed For Definitely Definitely We Have A Different Pattern Of Individuality In The Country So He's A Lot Of The People as Long As His Body Burns Once Once He's Out Once He's Out Of Jail While He's Out of Jail He Is That He Is In Prison Is Definitely A Problem For The Country But as I Said Earlier That Wasn't My Question My Question Was Are You Showing Complete Bias By Referring To Leader The Opposition As A Know Steamed Friend Here In The Hope Of The People I Or My Language Again Your Language Is That No it's Not The Language That Is A Problem and The Language Is Not A Problem A Very Different Understanding Of How People mean Definitely Not Definitely Not because Anytime You Say Somebody Say You See The Suffering Of Somebody No EJ You See A Suffering Of The Family You See How This Person Still Fights For democracy And Human Rights Even The decent Shape Yeah Then It Is Obviously at The Connection Everyone Was Agreeing On Human Rights People In Prison I Think they We Worried About Our Highest Opposition Leader Who Does Not Record Which The US State Even With Anybody I Mean I'd Received Practically Every Member Of Acquisition A Site Receive Any Man Would Have To Agree To Disagree On Actual Aligning Everybody You Say president Maduro Is A Dictator He And His Supporters Obviously Say He's An Elected President He Says He's Going To have Another Election Next Year You Say The The Lack Of The Recall Referendum Makes Him A Dictator And We Can Argue A Lack Of The Elections Of Region For immigrants Because And The Lack Of Separation Of Branches We Can Argue about The Political Prisoners And They Made Several Times Yes We Can All The Things You Don't Remember We Can I Remember It Well Then You Know I Remember We Go There Sato shape It Fast With All This So You Made you Guys For The Fourth Or Fifth Time he's A Gator I Hope Maybe We're Not He Will Make His Case Well He Would Make His Case He's Not Here To Defend Us Of that He's An Elected President So You two Can Disagree Old Friends What I Would Question You On Is You Don't Just say He's A Dictator You've Said Venezuela Civic Military Regime Represents The Worst Of Every dictatorship When You Say The Worst Are you Seriously Saying Venezuela Under Maduro Is Worse Than Say North Korea Or China Or Saudi Arabia Really Look If You Read The Complete Paragraph You See The Justification Of Every Single Point A Tyrannical Regime That Oppress Fundamental Freedoms That Has Political prisoners That Kills People In The Streets That Haves And Gangbangs Killing People In The Streets All That But You Can Organize Alleged Abuse All That Without Compare Our Country To Say No real Sure You Must Never Lose Over And do A Man Who Is A Former Minister Latif Lama Must Understand How That Line The president Of Myanmar You Know Also That and It's Not A Phrase It's A Phrase That I Put In Another That A Parody Of democracy Is Worth At Annotate A Dictatorship And What Do You Think Venezuela Will Look Like Four Or Five years From Now I Can Only Hope To Will Be A Democracy And With Full Respect Of Human Rights And That The Country Can Trigger Their Economy And Product System Again I Hope For Them The Best Luis Almagro Thank You For Joining Me On Upfront Thank You As We've Already Discussed On The Show the Crisis Of Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela Is Getting Worse By The Day And The Popular Socialist Project Launched By His Predecessor Ago Chavez Is Being Criticized By Venezuelans And Venezuelan protesters Like Never Before But As The Maduro Government Willing To Listen To that Criticism Or Is It Getting More And More Authoritarian By The Day To Debate this I'm Joined By Ava Gallinger A venezuelan American Journalist And A Former Adviser To Hugo Chavez And Professor Gabriel Hetland From The University Of Albany Who's Writing A Book About Democracy In Latin America thank You Both For Joining Me In The Arena Gabriel You Were Generally sympathetic Towards The Chavez To Project But You've Recently Written That While Previous Claims Of Venezuela's Authoritarianism Have Had Little Merit this Is No Longer The Case What's Changed Gabriel What Makes You Now Think that President Maduro Is On A Path Towards Authoritarian Rule Yeah I Think is An Important Question And I Wouldn't say That They're On A Full-scale Path To Authoritarian Rule Or That They Are Authoritarian I Think It's Important To Say Nicolas Maduro Was Democratically Elected Justice Hugo Chavez Was It Is A government Under Siege From The Right And From The US Government But I Think actions Over The Last 16 Months Have Moved Venezuela Unfortunately In A More Authoritarian Direction The Key Thing I think Is Suspending Regional And Municipal Elections Last Year Which Were Scheduled To Happen By The End Of 2016 I think That That Happened With No Justification Whatsoever And There Was No Explanation For Why That Happened So I Think That's A Single Most Disturbing Thing That's Happened Would You Agree with Gabriel The Venezuela Is Now Moving in A Pretty Authoritarian Direction Well I Don't Think I Would Phrase It That Way whatsoever I Think What's Important To recognize Are Some Of The Things He Did Point Out Precisely The Fact That It Is A Government Under Siege That You Know You Have A Situation Where You Have Violent Anti-government Protests In The Streets And We're Not Just Talking About You Know Your Average Type Of Protests We're Talking About The Use Of Molotov Cocktails Using Them Against Security Forces Attacking Directly Security Forces You Know Using Weapons Guns And An Ongoing Destabilization Effort The Part Of The Venezuelan Opposition I Mean There's A Lot Of Issues Going On there's A Complete Lack Of Trust In The Government In State Institutions And In the Opposition And In Most Of The Political Parties In The Country Just sticking With This Idea Of Authoritarianism And You're Pushing Back Against That Obviously Both Sides Will Argue About Who's To Blame For The Deaths Of Protesters They Would Say Security Forces Being Heavy-handed you're Pointing Out That There's violence On The Part Of The Protesters but What's Indisputable Is That The Government Is Using Military Courts To Try Civilian Protesters That Opposition figures Are Behind Bars That The President Says He Wants To Change The Constitution In Order To Quote Restore The Peace How Is That Not Creeping Authoritarianism Well First Of All The Initiative Underway Right Now Of Convening A Constitutional Assembly To Redraft The Constitution I Can't necessarily Say That I Agree With That As The Path Forward But I Do Believe that The Maduro Government Is Looking For A Way Out Of The Situation That It's In And There The President Is Not Just going To Resign Because There's opposition Against Him Obviously You Know That Suspension Of Elections Has Caused A Lot Of The Unrest In The country Now And I Don't Particularly See a Justification For Having Suspended Those Elections I Think That That's Important The Country Needs To Move Move Forward In A Democratic Framework And What's Happening Now Is We're Sort Of seeing Both Sides Going Beyond That The opposition Doesn't Play By Democratic rules Unfortunately Has Not And As Of Yet We Haven't Seen Any Such Initiative Or Indication That They Will In The Near Future Although They Would Say They Won Parliamentary Elections Just As You Say Maduro Has Won A Presidential Election just To Be Clear Do You Support The Use of Military Courts Against Non Military people Well First Of All I Don't Have The Full Evidence Of Exactly Who Is Being Held In Military Courts Or In Military Prisons And Being Tried In Military Courts At The Same Time Imagine In The United States If We Had Anti-government Protesters Using Violent Methods To Try To Overthrow The Government Certainly In This Country they Would Not Just Be In Prison If We're Talking About Resulting In Death and Injury Of Innocent People Those But No One Would Agree With Military Courts Against Non-military personnel Amnesty International Yes Sir well Honestly I'm Not Saying That they're Not Military People The People Have Been Locked A Lot Of Them Have Just been Rounded Up Yes They Could Be Considered In The US You Can Consider terrorists Enemy Combatants I'm Not Saying That Is A Justification Some But The Venezuelan Government Is Saying That those People Rising Up And Using Violence To Try To Overthrow The Government They Are Calling Them Terrorists And Therefore Justifying The Detention And use Of Military Courts I'm Saying I'm A Human Rights Lawyer I'm An Attorney Before Being A Journalist So I Certainly don't Necessarily Agree With The Use Of military Tribunals If To Try Civilian okay Okay Well You've Said That You Do Think There Are Signs Of Authoritarianism There Are Merits To that Charge When Does Authoritarianism become Dictatorship The Head Of The organization Of American States For Example Luis Almagro Says He's A Dictator Others Have Accused Him Of That As Well You Obviously Don't Think He's A Dictator But At What Point Do Would You as A Kind Of Former Friend Turned Mild critic Go From Saying This Is Not Just Authoritarianism This Is Now Into something Else Sure I Mean I Think there's Certain Questions We Would Ask about If It's A Dictatorship First Of All Do People Have The Right To Protest As Them Now They Do Have The Right To Protest There's Certain Restrictions Some Of Them Are Reasonable Some Of Them Are Probably Are Not But Those Are Similar To What Governments Throughout The World Use There's Also Tremendous Freedom Of Expression Some Restrictions Again Some Of Those Are Justified Some Of Those Are Not There's Restrictions On Politicians So If Those things Increase If We Saw No Right To Protest Then It Would Be Harder To Claim The Government's Not A Dictatorship If We Saw No Freedom Of Expression It Would be Harder To Do That And In Particular If We Saw A Suspension Of Any And All Electoral Pass So I Really Do Think That the Suspension Of Elections Last Year Is A Merit Charge For Calling The Government How Much Gabriel More Authoritarian How Much Of That Responsibility For This Current Crisis And For The Kind Of Authoritarianism That You've Pointed To How Much Is That how Much Of That Is The Fault Of Ruger Chavez They're Kind Of Charismatic Predecessor Of Nicolas Maduro Did He I Mean He We Know That He Made Huge Social Advances His Defenders Supporters Would Point To You Know Poverty Relief education Health Care But Didn't He Also in Many Ways Lay The Groundwork For Today's Issues Authoritarian Rule Economic Dysfunction I Would Not Say In Terms Of Authoritarian Rule I Mean I Think That The Venezuelan Government Under Hugo Chavez Was Imperfect And There Were Certain Times When They Were Subject To Valid Critiques 2010 There Was A National Assembly Election That The Opposition Came Pretty Close To winning And Then When They Took Their seats A Couple Weeks Before That There was An Enabling Law That Allowed Chavez To Rule By Decree For About 18 Months I think That's Subject To Critique But Generally I Think Chavez Ruled In A Very very Democratic Manner Who Was Repeatedly Affirmed At The Polls However I Think On The Economic Front Some Of The Problems That We're Seeing Now Which Can't Be Sort Of Easily Disentangle From The Political Crisis Are The responsibilities Of Chavez The Dependency On Oil Which Is A Big Factor Right Now Got Worse Under Chavez It's Not To Say That Chavez Alone Is To Blame This Is A Problem That Goes Back Decades And Decades In All Oil States Around The World Have A Very Difficult Time Dealing With This But Chavez Deserves Some Blame For That And For Allowing Corruption To Go Relatively Unaccounted For Even You Were To Go Chavez How Would You Respond To That Critique Of Him Some I Would agree With But Some I Would Disagree with I Know Personally That Chavez Is Largest Vision Was To Decrease The Dependency On Oil And To Sort Of Revisit Some Of Venezuela's Other Industries such As The Agricultural Industry One Of His Major Objectives Was To Use Venezuelan Natural Resources Beyond Just Oil But Also Gas Minerals To Invest Into National Development In The Country unfortunately Most Of That Never actually Came To Fruition Because Of internal Corruption And Just You Know In incapacity To Sort Of Fulfill Those Initiatives Once They Began Some Of That Responsibility Of Course Chavez Was The President So He Can We Can Lay The Blame on Him But There Was Also A Team Around him That Took Advantage Of A Lot Of The Things That Made Him The Admirable Leader That He Was - Millions Of Venezuelans And Others Around The World Gabriel Chavez For All His Faults Was democratically It Was Very Popular His Vision Was Popular That Isn't The Case Now 80% Of Voters Say They Want To change In Government People Are Fed Up With The Government Including Former Chavez Supporters Yes No That's Absolutely True Although It's Really Important To Look At The Reasons Why People Are Fed Up with The Government And This Is A Sort of Reason Why Popular Barrios By And Large Have Not Been Joining The Anti Maduro Protests Although They Have Engaged In Somewhat Sporadic Acts Of Looting And Looking For Food So Popular Sort Of Sectors In Venezuela Are Very Very Concerned About The Economic Crisis they Want To See A Solution And They're Rightly Blaming The Maduro Administration And The Opposition For Failing To Provide That They Are Less Critical About The So Called authoritarianism Of The Government Which Again I Think Is Somewhat Justified But Not Completely Because On The Receiving End Of Some Of It Even Let Me Ask You This Nicolas Maduro Said In 2018 Come Rain Thunder Or Lightning In Venezuela There Will Be Presidential Elections were He To Suspend Cancel Postpone Those Elections Would That Be A Red Line For You Would That Be The Moment You Said actually This Has Gone Too Far He Is An Authoritarian Leader And Abusing Power I Don't Think It's A Question Of A Red Line I Mean I Think That We Have To Look At Circumstance But There There Needs To Be Elections In Venezuela They Need To Comply With The Constitution If They Are Embarking On A Project To Redraft A New Constitution Then It Will Definitely require A Presidential Election Just As happened When This Constitution Was Drafted And Ratified By A Majority Of Venezuelans In 1999 Shamans Really defend On This You Wouldn't Defend Under Any Circumstances President Maduro Decision To Postpone The Elections Whatever Excuse He Might Offer I'm Not First Of All I'm Not Defending The Government Of Venezuela I You Know I'm not Defending President Maduro In Any Of His Decisions I'm Someone Who Has Spent And Lived In Venezuela For Over A Decade You Know I Am Venezuelan I Did At Work As An Advisor And Was Cliff Was A Close friend To Go Chavez I Know Maduro Very Well And Worked Alongside Him Too For Many Years I Know Internally The Situation In The Country And I Know Also What People Within You Know What Has Has Been Sort Of The Grassroots Base Of Support In Chavismo feel Today And Are Saying Today There's A Hard Core Support For The Revolution At Any Cost That Wants To Push Through This Crisis And Come Out Never Letting The Opposition Regain Power There Are Others Who Would Like To See Resolution Who Don't Want To Give Up The Achievements that Were Gained Throughout The Past You Know 15 17 18 Years But At The Same Time They Don't Want Things To Continue As They Are And They Don't Like Nicolas Maduro In The Way That He's Managed The Government Since Chavez Passed Away And He Was Elected But At The Same Time Violent Protests To Overthrow Government And Seeking External Intervention Primarily From Washington To Execute A Coup D'etat Or Some Kind Of Regime change Is Completely Unacceptable That Is Not An Alternative To The Crisis Venezuela's Facing Today Ava Gabriel Thank You Very Much For Joining me Here In The Arena We're Out Of Time that's Our Show upfront We'll Be Back Next Week [Music] You 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