“To question power, to present the demands of the people, to propose forms of organization for those in power to hear, in any opportunity and circumstance that may be necessary.” This is one of the declarative principles that all of the signing organizations endorse.
On April 5, 2022, a meeting took place between members of the Venezuelan government and members of various civil society organizations, with the objective of presenting an agenda of citizens’ demands that have been comprised through social dialogue, conversations between organizations and citizens, and consultations with leadership from across the political spectrum. On April 7, a second meeting was held to further discuss the urgent measures that these demands imply and to explore the conditions for their development in more depth.
The abovementioned meetings saw the participation of: Mariela Ramírez, spokesperson of the Citizen Movement Dale Letra; Feliciano Reyna, President of Acción Solidaria; Mauro Zambrano of the organization Monitor Salud; Enrique López Loyo, President of the National Academy of Medicine; Pablo Zambrano, union leader of MOSBASE; Ricardo Cusanno, Ex-President of Fedecámaras; William Requejo, President of the Neighborhood Union for Citizen Participation; Keta Stephany, university professor; Luis Lander of the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory; and Juan Luis Sosa of the Movement for Democracy.
These social sectors form part of the Foro Cívico, a movement of articulation and coordination that since 2021 has developed mechanisms of dialogue among social and political sectors with the goal of reevaluating society’s capacity to negotiate and present demands to those in power, emphasizing the need to recuperate civil and human rights as a basis for its actions.
In both meetings, participants specified the top priorities and urgencies in the health system, from the Expanded Program on Immunization, which documents a deficit of vaccines to achieve the required coverage, to the catastrophic situation of care for cancer patients, working through an institutional analysis of a structural revision of the health system, as well as the urgent need to implement an academic update for community-based physicians. The participants from Foro Cívico insisted on the recovery of a living wage, collective contracts and the non-imposition of wage and salary tables, as this must come as the result of dialogue and negotiations with unions rather than be imposed unilaterally. In general, the participants emphasized the need to defend civil liberties, of the rights to private property and consultations regarding financial and economic legislation. They also presented a list of demands for the education sector and the autonomy of universities.
The humanitarian situation and the defense of human rights, including the rights of political prisoners and demands for justice, were also extensively discussed.
Apart from the discussions of the mentioned subjects, the following considerations and principles were presented to establish lines of work with diverse social sectors:
- These processes all comply with a logic of negotiation that intends to address issues of national interest. Maintaining this perspective is fundamental for high-level political negotiations, and specifically the process in Mexico. Political actors have the responsibility to carry out these negotiations and transform the political conflict into a genuine democratic contest. The role of civil society, in our understanding, consists of supporting this process, spreading the word, and developing visions and policies within the negotiation agenda so that it becomes one of all Venezuelans, not just political actors.
- No democratic society can function without a public democratic culture, and without organizations and citizens working for the materialization of democratic values. As citizens, we have the conviction that the crisis and the political conflict that has caused it demands concerted efforts at intermediation and political dialogue that convenes all political actors – and the entire society – to be able to achieve real agreements that put the nation on the path to democratization.
- As in 2021, when organizations of civil society that make up the Foro Civico carried out a process of dialogue and negotiation with different political sectors to agree, within the limited channels and political conditions that we currently have, on leadership within the National Electoral Council (CNE) that offers some semblance of confidence that there could be an electoral process under better institutional and political conditions. In 2022, these same organizations have mobilized to continue exercising this role in other areas. The process of judicial reform is one of them. The designation of judges to the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) is not a small issue, but concerns the fundamental structure for the political and institutional balance of the country. Without dismissing the unconstitutional elements of the law that initiated this reform, and without ignoring the particular and politicized visions with which political actors have approached this issue, we believe that this presents an opportunity to advocate for a new TSJ that is composed, at least to some extent, of honorable judges that can respond to demands for responsibility and accountability.
- The corporatist characteristics of the legal sphere also has an impact on the capacity of civil society to have an influence. But even so, the Foro Civico has nominated 11 candidates that model the characteristics that we would like to see in all of the justices. It is a violation of rights that it is not the candidates’ qualifications that determine their selection, but we do not believe that it will be possible to demand accountability if civil society does not participate in and closely follow the nomination process, projecting the voice of institutionality and the spirit of the Constitution.
- The visit of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, sends us an encouraging signal regarding the relevance of this vision: that justice in Venezuela must begin by recuperating the institutional capacity of the state, which is today politicized and deteriorated to the point of asphyxiation. The reestablishment of the functionality and impartiality of the judicial system would have an immediate impact on the quality of life and in the social cohesion of all Venezuelans. It is an issue of national importance that can not continue being treated as a space for political or corporate partiality.
- Also incorporated into this vision is the proposal to construct a space of negotiated rules for humanitarian action in the national territory that allows for the strengthening of capacities and the activities of humanitarian and human rights organizations working on the ground. Other civil and union organizations are mobilizing for systematic discussion of the working Bill on Higher Education, as well as to raise demands regarding salaries and pensions for retirees, the recuperation of the health system, the adequate functioning of public services and in general the enjoyment of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights to guarantee the Venezuelan people a dignified life.
- All of this forms part of the process of constructing a Social and Human Rights Agenda that convenes projects and policies that citizens, civil organizations, and political and social movements have for the country: a common vision within a system of democratic pluralism.
- In our current situation, in a war-like conflict that would seem unthinkable in the 21st century, Venezuela can play a role that allows for its reinsertion into the international arena, demonstrating its disposition to advance in institutional reforms not limited to recuperating the oil market, but that signal the willingness of all political leadership to bring the country, through minimum consensus, towards a more democratic opening.
- We believe that the international community, the organizations of the United Nations system, independent international organizations, and foreign governments that have closely followed the social, humanitarian, and political situation in Venezuela, have an important role in accompanying processes of presenting demands, as well as in contributing the advancing and strengthening institutional reforms that would have an impact on the daily life of Venezuelans. This support will come, we hope, to the extent that the right signals are sent.
- The key word with which we conclude is: responsibility. We are responsible citizens that demand responsible political leadership for the country. And we are willing to work so that this is the case assuming any necessary costs.
Before us, the citizens, there is an open possibility to demand that we advance on the path to recuperate Venezuela’s institutions and restore our rights.
From the Foro Civico, we believe that the public should be informed of this process, and that the process be enriched by their contributions, diverse experiences and viewpoints. As we state in our declaration of principles: “It is in our condition as citizens that we demand from those that hold power the urgent attention to the ills that affect us as a nation, always in strict compliance of the acting Constitution and international human rights agreements signed by the Venezuelan State. It is in this context that we propose the development of necessary channels of communication to redesign a mechanism of negotiation that puts the country on the path to a future of peace, well-being and progress for all. And as our mentor Pedro Nikken said: ‘Negotiation is not the best path, but the only path.’”