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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Issue 10 - Evidence - Meeting of May 8, 2014


OTTAWA, Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 10:55 a.m. to study security conditions and economic developments in the Asia-Pacific region, the implications for Canadian policy and interests in the region, and other related matters; and to examine such issues as may arise from time to time relating to foreign relations and international trade generally.

Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Honourable senators, we had a witness by video conference but there seems to be some difficulty in getting the witness to the video room. The clerk is indicating that there was some confusion over the time. Perhaps we can't calculate or he can't calculate so we're still waiting for the witness. We've been told for half an hour that the witness will appear imminently. The clerk tells me another five minutes. I'm at the pleasure of the committee. Do we invest time or do we adjourn and recall members?

Senator Downe: Is the later witness here, chair?

The Chair: We could see if we could move her up. Are there other suggestions? I know she's in the building, I was told. We could commence that hearing earlier while we wait.

Senator D. Smith: You mentioned yesterday that it is harder to get witnesses. Is this a pattern?

The Chair: No, I think this is confusion over timing.

Senator Downe: Perhaps the time difference.

The Chair: The time difference has thrown the witness off. We were talking about 10:30 a.m. in Ottawa, Canada, and that might have been translated into something else in London. That is the issue. Apparently the witness was alerted to it and is making an effort to get to the studio to participate. In the meantime, we've expended half an hour waiting, so I'm at the call of the committee.

I'm being told we could start in five minutes with the panel scheduled for 11:30. I think we should do that so we'll adjourn for five minutes and reconvene when the next panel is ready to proceed. Are members agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you.

Honourable senators, we will be proceeding to our next panel, as we had some technical and other difficulties with our first panellist and witness.

We are here at this time to examine such issues as may arise from time to time relating to foreign relations and international trade generally. For the benefit of any viewers and for our witness, our committee has a general mandate to look into international trade and foreign relations issues from time to time. We are presently, however, studying Asia-Pacific in depth, and we will be returning to that.

Today, in our second session, I'm pleased to welcome Maria Corina Machado, a Member of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Ms. Machado has asked to appear before the committee and to update us on the situation in Venezuela.

Ms. Machado, I have circulated your extensive biography so that all of the members have had the opportunity to know your background and your service in your country. So that I don't take away from your time, Ms. Machado, I'm going to turn to you to make opening remarks and then senators will wish to question you. Bearing in mind the time, I know you have many things you want to say, but I'm sure you'll be able to highlight the areas of concern that you wish to bring before the committee. Please proceed.

Maria Corina Machado, Member of the National Assembly of Venezuela, as an individual: Thank you very much, honourable senators. On behalf of my co-citizens, Venezuelan citizens, I present to you our gratitude for the support of human rights in Venezuela and the principles of democracy that are stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter as well as in our constitution.

We are all aware of the very difficult situation the people of Venezuela are living in at this time. Just last night, an activist of human rights, a member of an NGO called Sin Mordaza, was detained without rule and is currently in a prison of the intelligence police in Venezuela. At dawn this morning, three of the student camps, peaceful camps at squares in Caracas, were raided by over 900 military guards as well as police, and 243 young students were sent also to prison, both military facilities and civil facilities.

I'm sure you're aware that a few days ago, Human Rights Watch issued a report where it clearly describes what is currently taking place in Venezuela. It calls it a systematic and massive violation of human rights, including raids in private homes and aggression to peaceful protesters, both by military forces and by paramilitary bands that are pro- government. Also, at this time, journalists, politicians, members of the Parliament, human rights defenders and lawyers are being persecuted and detained because we defend our right to peacefully protest and promote the democratic values that are stated in our constitution.

It was one year ago last week that I was severely beaten in the hall of the National Assembly by a colleague, a member of the Parliament. She broke my face. She threw me to the floor and she kicked me. While she was kicking me, the President of the National Assembly was sitting down and smiling, and the doors of the hall of the National Assembly were locked so no one could leave while this attack was taking place. Also last week, we arrived at the first time where I was by force denied entry to the hall and the buildings of the National Assembly because the President of the National Assembly decided I had committed a crime when I went to the Organization of American States to denounce all these violations of human rights that are taking place right now in Venezuela.

How did we arrive to this point? Many people around the world don't understand why Venezuela, which has been living for the last 15 years with the highest and longest oil boom, has arrived to a point in which our students and young people believe there is no future in the country. There are many similarities between Canada and Venezuela, including marvellous resources and warm people, but there is one big difference. People around the world want to come and live here, while young people in Venezuela are even willing to risk their lives for a chance to go abroad. How have we arrived here?

In the last years, we've seen how Venezuelan institutions have been progressively destroyed and submitted to a regime that wants to impose only its way of seeing and considering society, with less and less freedom for citizens. Many decided to look the other way because certainly Venezuela has important economic and ideological relations with other countries and groups around the world. But even though Venezuela seemed to be a society scared and divided and probably deeply in resignation at the beginning of the year, our young people decided to call on our conscience and our hearts and called on society to awaken to the possibility of a social movement that could fight for freedom and democracy. That's exactly what took place throughout cities and towns in the whole country; not only young students but also their parents and grandparents went out — even young children — and started a peaceful movement that had no precedent in Venezuelan history.

Nonetheless, the regime decided to repress. As I said, we have seen actions that are so cruel that we had not seen even in our military regimes of the last century. As I said in the last hours, repression has deepened.

Today, Leopoldo López, one of the prominent leaders of the opposition, was supposed to appear in a trial, because he has been isolated in a military jail, accused of severe crimes just because he decided to support the right to protest, which started with this movement at the beginning of the year. Two Venezuelan, elected mayors last December, because of the rule of the constitutional branch of the Supreme Court, were taken to prison and are currently in a military installation.

All rights, systematically, now in Venezuela — the right to elect and to exercise the will of the people — are being violated. There is no independence of powers in branches whatsoever. There is no respect for the rule of law, and certainly the right to protest peacefully is being denied.

Being here, in Canada, which is a country that is a moral reference for the region, is an opportunity to call for all democrats around the world to see, to hear and to know what's taking place in Venezuela, to raise their voices and call things by their name. A regime that persecutes, tortures, censors and kills should be called by its right name.

We in Venezuela, our generation, are committed to fight and conquer for democracy and freedom, but we need democrats around the world to speak out and to let the regime know that this effort started by our young people and shared by a whole society counts with the support of the voices of democrats around the world, and to let us know that we're not alone at this time. We will conquer for democracy and freedom and we will transit to democracy. Venezuela will once again be a source of stability, integration, progress and democracy, for us, for future generations and for the whole hemisphere.

Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Machado.

Could I get a clarification, before I turn to a list of senators with questions? If my facts are correct, in March of this year, you spoke before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States? Am I correct that you were able to do so when the Republic of Panama yielded its speaking rights or agenda format to you? Your position is that, as a result of that, the President of the National Assembly removed you — and I'm not sure what that process was — from the assembly.

Could you explain a little bit about that so that we have an idea of the parliamentary part of this issue?

Ms. Machado: Certainly. On March 21, I was invited to speak at the Permanent Council of the OAS. A vote took place to maintain or to remove this opportunity. The majority of the states voted against the possibility that I speak out about the situation of human rights in Venezuela. That wasn't the case of Canada; Canada was one of the states that supported the possibility that I be heard. Because it's a common practice at the OAS and has been done several times.

Nonetheless, the Republic of Panama offered me its chair, a procedure that has been done several times before, as well, so that I could speak at the end of the session at various points. Actually, Venezuela has done that in the past: Recently, it gave its seat to the foreign minister of Manuel Zelaya, the former President of Honduras, in order to speak at the OAS, and he did.

Because I did so — because I had the chance to speak about human rights in Venezuela at the permanent council — two days later, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, a military person, decided I was no longer considered a member and I would not be allowed to enter again the facilities of the buildings of the National Assembly.

Of course, it clearly violates the Venezuelan constitution. I was elected, and I was elected with the highest number of votes ever in my country. Our constitution states clearly that I have parliamentary immunity, so before I can be removed, I should have the chance to be heard both at the Supreme Court and then at the National Assembly. None of those opportunities were given to me.

First, I have not committed a crime, but if I had, I was also denied the possibility to defend myself. I have been accused of treason. I have been accused of terrorism. I have been accused of murder. I am currently persecuted, as well as my family. I get messages from the police and the prosecutor's office, and I'm constantly followed, even outside Venezuela.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Downe: So you still live in the country, even though you have these threats over you; it's not your intention to leave? They don't try to force you out?

Ms. Machado: Yes, and I will go back to my country tomorrow. I believe I have a duty, both inside and outside Venezuela. I am a member of the parliament and I was elected with a mandate to defend those who are persecuted and are denied rights. I spent most of my time travelling around Venezuela and participating in rallies with union leaders, students and mothers who are supporting their children.

Next week, I will probably go to Brazil. There is a similar hearing such as this at the House of Representatives of Brazil, where I have been invited. I have plans to go.

But every time I have to go back, the threats increase. Truly, I don't know what will happen to me when I go back.

[Translation]

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Ms. Machado, welcome to our committee. Do you understand French?

Ms. Machado: I think so.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you for your presentation and for telling us of the worrying situation in Venezuela at this time. Since the beginning of the demonstrations in your country, there were several reports on news channels here that emphasized the brutal repression carried out by law enforcement. What we heard less about, however, was the role played by the Cuban military presence in Venezuela. Could you shed some light for us on the role the Cuban government is playing in the current tensions in Venezuela, and tell us about Havana's objectives?

[English]

Ms. Machado: Regarding the military forces, our constitution is clear that military forces should be loyal to the constitution and to the whole people of Venezuela and not to a political party. Unfortunately, in the last years, we have seen how professional soldiers are dismissed. We have seen publicly high-ranking members of the military and also members all levels of our military participating in political rallies. They are forced to do so or else they will be dismissed. Also, the presence of Cuban soldiers in all branches of our military forces. This is something that has been denounced with the names and the precise places where they operate. This is certainly a huge concern to those who believe that we should have should have a professional military force that serves the nation and not a political party.

Having said that, in the last three months we have seen specifically how the National Guard, which is one of the four branches of the military forces in Venezuela, has been involved in repression acts not only against peaceful protestors but even raids inside houses. They have forced doors open in private homes where neighbours have been protecting students that have been persecuted. They get into the houses and take both the students and the neighbours who were protecting the students in their homes.

Military installations are being used not only to detain but to torture our students. There have been over 80 cases of severe torture documented, some of them in this report from Human Rights Watch, in which students have had electric shocks, were severely beaten and there are even cases of sexual violations. This is happening in military corridors right now.

You also had another question?

[Translation]

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Are there any countries or international organizations that have made any commendable efforts to show solidarity with the Venezuelan people? Do you know if there are any countries that support you?

[English]

Ms. Machado: I have to mention one thing that I think is important regarding the first part of your question, and it's the use of paramilitary groups. These are civil groups that have been armed and they're used to attack these protestors, sometimes in coordination with both the police and the military groups. These paramilitary groups have received orders from high ranking public officials, including President Maduro, in a TV broadcast on all TV radio stations, public and private, on March 5. That's also documented in this report. He ordered that these paramilitary groups should go out and extinguish every flame of protest throughout the country and minutes later, in 15 states of Venezuela, this took place. There are killings that took place the day after that order.

Regarding international support, this is a time when Venezuela, during our fighting, felt quite alone in the last years. We realize Venezuela has close ties to groups and governments not only in the region, but around the world. Venezuela pays huge amounts of our resources to get political support from other countries. Just to give you an example, in the case of Cuba, it's calculated that it's around $12 billion a year is being given by the Maduro regime to the Cuban regime. That has brought us to a situation in which we have seen very few voices speak out about what has been taking place in the last years in Venezuela. Nevertheless, it's so obvious, it's so cruel what has happened in the last weeks that we are starting to see voices willing to speak out, putting aside those economic or ideological ties. It's journalists, artists, people in sports and certainly parliamentarians throughout the region.

At this time, what do we need? We need democrats to call things by their names, and when events such as this takes place, probably move forward into more deep investigations — certainly bringing voices from all sectors — and even the possibility of an on-the-ground delegation of parliamentarians of a country such as yours. I want to insist, Canada has a moral, ethical reference in the region. You have solid institutions, but your coherence during decades of defending violations of human rights and democratic values puts you in a unique position in our hemisphere.

[Translation]

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you very, very much, madam.

[English]

Senator Johnson: Welcome. I think you're an incredibly brave woman. When you go back tomorrow, what will you do? What will your day involve in terms of continuing to rally the support necessary, and particularly when you head into the elections next year, how will you run again and how will you be legitimized by this particular group? In terms of the opposition, with respect to their demands in the context of the current round of demonstrations, how unified are you? How many people are working with you that you can trust in this process that you're going through?

Ms. Machado: I would start by saying that there is a growing, huge support in all sectors of society. You're starting to see union leaders speak out as they haven't done in several years. I especially have to make recognition of the Catholic Church. If you read their statement of last April 3, it's as brave as possible because it states clearly that what's in process in Venezuela is the will to install a totalitarian regime. Those are the words the Catholic Church uses.

As well, we're seeing journalists and our student leaders. Of course, the will of the regime is to divide the opposition and they work hard to create distrust among the leaders, but they will not achieve that. On the contrary, this is a time in which not only the political parties are together and should stay together, but we need to open other sectors of society and involve them in a fight that, it is important to understand, has nothing to do with left or right. It has nothing to do with officialism or the opposition. It is a society that is fighting for freedom, justice, dignity, human dignity and also national dignity.

It's a cruel regime that is certainly the most corrupt we've seen in decades that wants to establish a society that is dominated, quiet and terrified. Just to give you an idea, ambassadors in Venezuela wouldn't dare to meet with me publicly. When an ambassador is afraid, what can you expect from a public employee, from a single mother that depends on what the government will give or take way from her if there is the slightest possibility that she is not totally loyal to the regime? That's what we're dealing with right now.

Regarding my day, frankly, I have no idea. Certainly I will go and meet with the students. I will try to visit with those who have been detained in the last hours. There is a rally on Saturday in which mothers of those persecuted, detained and killed will be on the first line and I will certainly meet with them.

Senator Johnson: How do we continue? What is the most effective way for us, in Canada, to support the human rights? You talked about us as a country and what we stand for. How can we best do it in supporting human rights in Venezuela?

Ms. Machado: Many people ask us if it has any effect at all, in a regime that has certainly taken away freedom. They went a long way without being obvious to anyone about its true nature. It is obvious now, but certainly the international community, as a source of legitimacy, has been effective for the regime to come this far. For us, it is crucial to know, first, that we're not alone, and it has a certain moral effect, all those children, young people and mothers and fathers that are fighting in the street.

Second, it raises a political cost to move forward. I believe I am not in jail right now because of the voices of democrats that have stated clearly that they support our cause.

The OAS is an institution that certainly has behaved in a shameful way, with double standards. They moved effectively in the case of Honduras and Paraguay for obviously less severe circumstances, but they have decided to look the other way with Venezuela. I believe it's our duty to save the OAS and make it react at this point. I believe the Caribbean community — with which you have, as a country, close ties — should be informed of the duties we all, as nations, have with one another.

Specifically in Parliament, if I may, I believe that the possibility that the committees of human rights and this committee, the situation in Venezuela be followed up, that, as I say, deeper investigations take place. I believe the possibility of an in-ground mission of members of Parliament, all parties, both houses, could certainly be of huge support and probably will let the regime know that democrats around the world, and specifically in the hemisphere, do care what is happening in Venezuela.

What is happening in Venezuela has a strong impact in the rest of the region, and that's something that we all should have very clear, not only because of the ties in Venezuela with criminal activities, such as narcotics, weapons and so on, but because of the way in which this regime that systematically destroys democracy from the government is spreading through the region. So strengthening democratic institutions is crucial at this time.

Senator Housakos: Welcome, Ms. Machado, to our committee and thank you for your compelling and passionate testimony. My first question is in regard to the situation in Venezuela. I'd like you to express your point of view on the reasons why there is such social unrest and opposition towards the government.

No doubt there are protests and social unrest, but are they driven because of lack of respect for democracy, lack of respect for liberty, lack of respect for the rule of law? Or are they driven because Venezuela, for three decades, has had probably the most unprecedented economic decline seen in the global economic sphere? There has been constant inflation, stagnation. The GDP-to-debt ratio is astronomical. You have had successive governments with socialist agendas carrying and putting forward terrible monetary policies. As a result, you have treacherous levels of youth unemployment, of unemployment in general, lack of investment, lack of economic stability.

Could those factors be as equally motivating for the social chaos and opposition that has been going on towards the government as the disrespect, as you put forward, of fundamental principles of democracy by the current government?

Ms. Machado: Thank you, Mr. Senator. That's a very, very important issue to have clear at this time. Certainly we've seen in the last years how protests in Venezuela have multiplied. Last year, in a nation of roughly 30 million people, we had over 5,000 protests, mostly regarding economic and social issues. The government was able to contain and even to ignore them, isolate them.

It is unbelievable how a country that 15 years ago had — well, you know very well the price of oil was roughly around $10 and is now over $100 — such a decline in this process. We have the highest inflation in the world. From March to March, we're talking about, in food, over 70 per cent. The minimum wage is around 60 to $65. That means that a family, in order to only feed their children and themselves, needs to have five minimum wages.

Scarcity, not only of food but also of medicines, has reached a state that is worse than an economy of war. In March, official indicators from the central national bank were over 30 per cent of scarcity. That's something unbelievable. Venezuelan women have to spend 6, 8, 10 hours a day in long lines just to feed their children.

Last weekend, I was in the state of Portuguesa, and in its capital there is only one hospital — Hospital Miguel Oraá. Doctors stopped me in the street. They knew I was there. They came to me crying. There is no doctor at the neonatal unit. Thirteen newly born babies had died two weeks before, died because there were no medicines to save their lives, and the equipment was not working. This is happening in oil-rich Venezuela right now.

From a social perspective, the unrest has a lot to do with violence. The murder rates have been growing dramatically; NGOs say around 70 to 75 murders per hundred thousand inhabitants. That is twentyfold what you see in a country such as yours. Every 21 minutes, a Venezuelan is murdered, mostly young and poor men. The prosecutor's office confesses 95 per cent of impunity rate in murders.

So there were very good reasons for young people to protest. But certainly when you see that the institutional ways are closed, that there is no way you will see justice, and the government decided to repress political rights, then you have two options as a society: To lower your head and accept to live every day with less freedom and be dominated; or to speak out, to go to the streets, and the people power to organize peacefully and demand democratic transition. Our constitution has democratic and constitutional means through which the population can move forward in democratic transition, the path to freedom.

Those are the recall referendum, a national constitutional assembly, and the demand for the resignation of the president. All those are stated in our constitution, our democracy, but require the will, the organization, and the movement of citizens. And that's exactly what has taken place, and that's why the government decided to brutally extinguish every expression of dissent.

Senator Housakos: If you can also give us your thoughts and comments on the state of the media right now in Venezuela, as well as the police force, the military, and also your perspective on the ever-growing black market economy.

Ms. Machado: Your last question regarding the black market and corruption, it's a new corrupted class that has emerged and that has certainly control not only of our oil resources but has been dealing with international groups in several sectors.

As you are aware, much of this information has been published in specialized media outside Venezuela. It's certainly troubling to see how these groups have been infiltrating Venezuelan institutions, the military, the judiciary system, and even sectors of the financial system.

Regarding the media, in the last years, the censorship process has been getting tighter. The most important TV station was closed by the government, and many radio stations throughout the country have been taken away. These have been used as examples to what's left of independent media.

Right now, just to give you an example, in my case, I have not been given the chance to participate in a TV interview to express my views, even though the government uses all TV and radio stations daily to qualify and attack us.

Two weeks ago, I was given the chance to appear at a TV station that is seen across the country. At that time, I had a 15-minute opportunity to make my case. When I sat down, five seconds before it started, a national compulsory message took place exactly for the 15 minutes I had the chance to speak, so nobody was able to hear our voice. This happens to all journalists.

Being a true journalist in Venezuela is an act of heroism. More than 200 cases of persecution have been denounced since January, both to local and international journalists. There is a Colombian TV station that is seen in Venezuela more and more because we learn about what is taking place through international media, not through local media. It was shut down by order of President Maduro the day the process started, and the press is currently being further closed down because they don't have the dollars to import newspapers. Venezuelan newspapers are getting smaller and smaller, unless you are a loyal defender of the regime.

Senator D. Smith: Thank you. I have a couple of questions.

A few minutes ago, you mentioned that the OAS were virtually doing nothing about this, whereas in the case of Honduras, and I think you mentioned El Salvador, too —

Ms. Machado: Paraguay.

Senator D. Smith: Okay, Paraguay. In the case of those countries, they don't have as much financial muscle compared to Venezuela. You weren't saying this, but is there oil revenue money that is somehow getting to the OAS that they need so much they're just not doing anything about it? Or what is driving the fact that they just won't roll up their sleeves and get involved in trying to have some role in basic human rights issues? Has money got anything to do with it?

Ms. Machado: Certainly, senator, because many countries that are part of the system are receiving a lot of money from Venezuela.

I have to say something. Decades ago, Venezuela started a pact with San José and Mexico, and it was a way in which oil-rich countries in Latin America would support other nations, specifically in Central America and the Caribbean. They did so without payback in political favours. That's how Venezuela understood cooperation and responsibility in the region.

Nevertheless, since the PetroCaribe and ALBA groups were designed, much oil money was given to these countries, but only if absolute political loyalty was given back to the OAS, CELAC and UNASUR. So I would say that it certainly plays a role in some countries.

There are other countries that share Venezuela's regime process and systems. We see countries like Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia in which democratically elected presidents from the executive branch progressively take over the other branches and make it literally impossible to have alternates in power. There are similar ideas of how to impose a system of domination.

Finally, there are countries that have decided not to get involved because they don't want to have aggressions back and have decided to simply opt for indifference. Our point is, with what is currently happening in Venezuela, indifference has only one name, and that's complicity.

Senator D. Smith: Speaking from a distance, because I'm not an expert in Latin American foreign affairs issues, but it was my impression that towards the end of the Hugo Chávez regime, things were getting pretty chaotic, yet he still had a certain amount of charisma that allowed him to hang in until he passed away.

Now that that is over, with whoever else is there, what about a couple of the countries that do have muscle in Latin America, like Mexico and Brazil? Are they doing anything or do they care? Or are they just sitting and watching?

Ms. Machado: That's a very painful question for us. I will start by saying, because you mentioned it, with respect to the opinion of Venezuelans right now, recent polls from a couple of weeks ago show that 79 per cent of the population believe that Venezuela is in a bad or very bad situation, and they blame Maduro for that.

Secondly, over 60 per cent of the population wants a regime change through constitutional means as soon as possible.

Certainly, as was mentioned before, with respect to the relationship between the chaotic economic and social situation and the political solution, the ties have been made, the link has been made, even in the poorest sectors of our population.

Regarding those countries that you mention, we cannot understand the indifference of an important country such as Mexico in terms of what is taking place in Venezuela. Venezuela has had a long history of mutual support and cooperation.

In the case of Brazil, it's much more complex because what we have seen in the last years is the clear support of the Brazilian government for the regime in Venezuela, even with some of its high-ranking members getting involved in the last election campaign, something that is certainly unacceptable. Nevertheless, we are seeing important changes at the Parliament in Brazil and at the other institutions in the country.

As I say, I'm going next week. I was in Brazil roughly a month ago at a Senate committee such as this, and the support was wide in terms of what is taking place in Venezuela, how it should be denounced and the unacceptable support that the regime has received from its government.

Senator D. Smith: Thank you, chair.

Senator Demers: I admire your position. It's a lot easier in life to quit than to stand up for the right thing, and for some people it's a lot easier to just give up when there's adversity. Your country has a prize that is as extremely important — oil, right? That's important for you. Corruption, greed, where is that money going? That's what you're really fighting for in a way, because when you talk about the oil, it's huge.

Tourism, at one time, was one of your major prizes. Canadians and other people around the world would go to Venezuela for vacations, but you say you may land tomorrow and not know what your future is. What you're presenting today, you know it's getting back to your country. You're here in Canada, but it's going back to your country, so you're even more in danger.

Following on what Senator Johnson said: If I'm fighting for something, I want to have some support. I can't stand up in the middle of the street where everyone is against me. Where is your support? Your courage is immense, but where is your support? That greed and that corruption, do you see — I have not followed as much as today. It's unbelievable what I hear. Where do you see this — I wouldn't say ending, but at one time saying, ``We're fighting and we're advancing''? Do you see that coming? Is it possible to see a light at the end of the tunnel? It's cliché, but do you see that?

Ms. Machado: We certainly do, senator. Venezuela is a different nation today, a different society from the one we were three months ago. It's because we've gone forward so much, so fast that reaction has been so cruel. It is a sign of a regime that knows that it has lost all trust and support from its population. That has been taken away, and the world and democrats around the world finally start calling things by their name, and it's calling it a dictatorship.

There are complex and dangerous interests in Venezuela. We're all aware of the relationship of the regime with Iran, with Belarus, the interest in not only oil but steel and mining, many sectors that attract businesses and activities that are not legal or transparent.

All those interests are currently in place in Venezuela, so we're quite aware of the dimension, complexity and danger of what we're facing.

That's why at the beginning of the year, probably no one thought it was possible to have a society, to awake in such a manner. Our strength comes from the people, senator, from the people of Venezuela.

We have seen the youngest speak out, and we have seen how they have been attacked, but they keep fighting, and they are doing that with their mothers and fathers. Even though the risk is huge, we will move along on this path to democracy.

That's why I'm here, because at this time, we require that those voices that truly care for democracy, for freedom, for human values, for principles, speak out and not leave us alone as we move along in this transition to democracy. It won't be easy, and probably they will put me and others aside, but others will come and take our place. We will move along, and you will see that this historic, epic movement of our generation will succeed, and it will happen soon.

Senator Demers: Very well put. So you and younger people are willing to die for your country. Not that you want to, but you're willing to fight to that point with young people and all that?

Ms. Machado: We want to live for our country, Mr. Senator.

Senator Demers: I'm just saying that you will fight until the end?

Ms. Machado: We will fight until we conquer for democracy and freedom.

Senator Ataullahjan: I commend you for having the courage to speak up and put your personal safety at risk, and I also commend you on speaking on behalf of the people, yet there is a certain element in society in Venezuela which accuses you of destabilizing efforts in Venezuela and inciting violence. How do you respond to those criticisms?

You yourself, as you mentioned to us, were kicked and beaten. Explain to me how you respond to those criticisms.

Ms. Machado: Last year, on August 25, it was the first anniversary of a tragedy in a refinery called Amuay on the west side of Venezuela. Over 50 Venezuelans were killed. We don't know exactly how many died.

The government refused to carry out an investigation, so members of Parliament decided to do it on our own. We looked for the best specialists, both local and international, and we produced a report of over 600 pages which proved the responsibility of managers as well as the board of Petrozuata Venezuela, the Venezuelan public oil company. We delivered that report to the main office of the refinery, and we were accompanied by union leaders. Because we did so, the union leaders were dismissed and are currently under criminal investigation. I was charged with terrorism by the governor of the state, and I was accused of all fires that have taken place in the last two years in Venezuela in the refinery system.

What I'm trying to say is that we have been blamed for everything we denounced. But it's not only us. It's every single Venezuelan who dares to speak out. Even the Catholic Church and the priests have been accused of destabilizing and having ties to international imperialism and extreme right and fascist groups. That's what they call every single Venezuelan citizen who speaks out.

I believe those kinds of accusations have no impact anymore, at least in our population. They are risky, because they tend to be used as criminal charges, certainly, and that's what we're facing right now.

As I say, Leopoldo López is supposed to be on trial as we speak. There was a trial that should have taken place today. He was taken back to the military facility where he is isolated. He's treated worse than a prisoner of war. That's a price that has to be paid for those of us who have decided to do our job and to listen to our conscience.

The Chair: There has been a call for some mediation in a political sense. UNASUR is helping these mediated talks. Can you comment on the progress of those talks or the expectations from those mediated talks?

Ms. Machado: Yes, it's almost a month that that process started, and so far there have been no results. But the firm statements from Mr. Maduro; Mr. Cabello, the President of the National Assembly; and other high-ranking officials in the sense that they will not accept any change in the objective of the revolution and what they Plan de la Patria, The Homeland Plan, that states imposing a system that is very close to what you see right now in Cuba.

Publicly, the government and its high-ranking officials say that they are not willing to make any structural reform in terms of democracy. They are discussing the possibility at this point of freeing some of the political prisoners, but nothing has been achieved yet.

The Chair: You were part of a party or a group. Are you participating in supporting those mediated talks?

Ms. Machado: No, we are part of the Unity. Members of the Unity are participating in the talks, which we respect. A group of us, including Leopoldo López and the student movement, decided to demand, before we sit with the government, that student prisoners be freed and that repression in the streets be stopped in order to sit and be able to move along in a series of reforms.

We respect that this process is taking place, but we believe that we should support the demands in the streets and ask for the repression from both paramilitary groups and security groups of the government to stop. As I say, we believe both processes are taking place simultaneously. And certainly the unity in the opposition is maintained and will be maintained.

The Chair: Thank you.

We're running out of time, but I had two senators ask for second questions. I wonder if both of you can put your questions and then Ms. Machado can answer as efficiently as she can.

Senator Housakos: Democracy, freedom and the rule of law are wonderful principles, and we in Canada are particularly very fond of them, proud of them and defend them to an extreme.

In any democracy you have a duly elected government and you have a duly elected opposition, and the role of the opposition is to oppose and the role of the government is to govern.

The governments have limits to their powers, or checks and balances, and that's what's so fundamental to democracy and rule of law. Opposition parties anywhere in the world have a responsibility but also an obligation as well to know where to draw the line at the end of the democratic process.

If you look at the great democracies in the world, like I always say, the vast majority of them, if not all, have a chicken in every pot and a car in every driveway. Strong economies usually play a significant role in propping up and defending democracies and liberties and the rule of law all over the world.

If you look at the last few years, I believe the last elections held in Venezuela were sometime in 2011. The current government won the majority of seats, if I'm not mistaken, in the National Assembly. What are your views on the previous elections that took place in Venezuela? Were they fair and run properly? What are your views of the upcoming elections in 2015 in terms of the process?

At the end of every democratic process, both governing and opposition parties, in order for democracy to work, might not like the outcome, but you have to be respectful of that outcome.

Senator Ataullahjan: What role has social media played in organizing the protests? When you look at some of the other countries around the world it plays a huge role. Has it been used effectively by youth in Venezuela?

Ms. Machado: Two great questions.

Regarding the electoral process, it won't be easy to be short on this issue. I will send some reports and information, because it's probably the area in which this regime has been more effective in the way it has been designing a process that is totally controlled by the regime. Elections in Venezuela are not free and fair, even though this controlled system has been stated as the most automated process of voting in the world. Before you vote in Venezuela you have to put your fingerprints in a machine that is linked to the automatic voting machine.

Today, five out of ten Venezuelans believe that vote is not secret, even though important things have been done to convince citizens that it is. Imagine a country in which massive threats and punishment have been imposed on people because they are not loyal to the government and the effect those will have.

Widespread violent events have taken place in several voting stations where witnesses of the opposition are taken out of the process in which they cannot ensure that the process is clear and fair.

Nevertheless, in the last parliamentary elections of 2010, the opposition, for which I was elected, gained 52 per cent of the votes: a majority. Nonetheless, the government put in place illegal changes in terms of the circuits so that it would achieve 60 per cent of the seats. So we have 52 per cent of the votes and only 40 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

Then we went to the presidential elections of last year, April 14, in which most Venezuelans believed that those elections were won, as I do as well, by Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader. The ballots that the electronic machines produced were not counted totally, and that was a demand that even Mr. Maduro has agreed to comply with at the UNASUR meeting in Lima. The differences were roughly 200,000 votes, but we had proof in which we doubted a million and a half votes. The only thing we demanded of the Supreme Court is for the votes to be counted, but they refused to do it.

Putting aside these circumstances in which we certainly believe elections in Venezuela are not free and fair, the legitimacy of government doesn't come only by how power is achieved; it's also how power is exercised. You can have a government that results from the biggest support in the freest, clearest and most just elections and then behave against democracy and lose legitimacy.

In our country, at this point, there are certain questions both to the legitimacy of origin of Mr. Maduro, but certainly there is evidence that his legitimacy of exercise is not in place.

What we are demanding right now is that we have a complete change in the members of the electoral council. There are five members of the electoral council. Our constitution states that they should be independent individuals, not linked to the government. Right now, four out of those five members were all registered members, at some point, of the official party. That's one of our main goals for which we are fighting in the streets right now, in order to move along through one of these constitutional means where we can demand change in the regime, but all require an electoral process.

We want to have an electoral process that's free and fair, and that's why it's so important to demand these changes in the members of the electoral council.

Finally, regarding social media, all the historic rallies, massive rallies we've seen throughout our country during these weeks and months, have been called using strictly social media. The TV and radio stations don't dare broadcast these invitations that students currently make. So it's thanks to social media that the population and especially young people have been connected with one another.

I need to convey to you, finally, not only our gratitude and recognition of what your country represents and the fact that your voices have been heard by all Venezuelans. They are heard. They mean a lot, at a time when we felt that the rest of the region or the world would turn their backs on us. More and more democrats are reacting. You were the first, but more and more are reacting and letting the world know that they will not tolerate or be indifferent to these violations of human rights and democratic principles.

There is a viable political alternative in Venezuela that is united and that represents a wide majority of our people. We are willing and able to move along this democratic transition to give sustainability to our country. We will start by strengthening institutions to give confidence and trust to Venezuelans and abroad, but most important of all, to reconcile these deep wounds that have been made by the division created in our society and to bring back together a country in order to be once again an example of democracy, freedom, justice and opportunity for all.

The Chair: Thank you for coming before us and stating your point of view and the issues that you see as significant and important for your country, but also ones that you think we should hear. We appreciate that. You can see from the questioning that you have been put through that there is a lot of interest.

Venezuela is part of this hemisphere. Its progress is as important to us as any other country in this hemisphere. We have been following, at a distance, the issues. We've been encouraging mediation. Violence is never an option that should be considered. All other tactics and procedures should be used.

We are concerned about any violence when people express themselves. We are concerned that there will be some resolution and a way forward for Venezuela. You very compellingly put your position forward, and we appreciate that.

On behalf of the committee, I thank you for coming to us today with this information.

Senators, we are adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)