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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
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?
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
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.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you very, very much, madam.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
On behalf of the committee, I thank you for coming to us today with this
Senators, we are adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)