New Venezuela body not to 'annihilate' opposition: key candidate

President Nicolas Maduro calls her "the tiger" as a tribute to her fierce loyalty to his socialist government. Delcy Rodriguez, an outspoken ex-foreign minister, would be the dominant figure in the all-powerful assembly being elected Sunday to rewrite the constitution.

Venezuela's former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez says the powerful assembly being elected in Venezuela is the only way to end the country's political and economic crisis
Venezuela's former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez says the powerful assembly being elected in Venezuela is the only way to end the country's political and economic crisis (afp/AFP)

President Nicolas Maduro calls her "the tiger" as a tribute to her fierce loyalty to his socialist government. Delcy Rodriguez, an outspoken ex-foreign minister, would be the dominant figure in the all-powerful assembly being elected Sunday to rewrite the constitution.

The 48-year-old lawyer told AFP the goal of the voting and new assembly is not to "annihilate" the opposition. She said dialogue is "the only path" to end her country's political crisis, but insisted Maduro's Socialists -- the political heirs of the late firebrand Hugo Chavez -- were not considering giving up power.

Q: Why is the new constituent assembly necessary?

Rodriguez: "It's the only immediate way we have to solve the problems among Venezuelans, to secure peace and end the violence. It is bullets and hate versus ballots. The new constitution will be put to a referendum, and that will give it its legitimacy."

Q: The opposition says it will usher in a communist dictatorship.

A: "A constituent assembly can't roll back the rights that are in our constitution. Quite the opposite: this is to make rights more progressive."

Q: Will there be a witch hunt?

A: "This isn't about prosecuting people, only crimes. One of the proposals before the constituent assembly is to transfer the right to take criminal action from the prosecutors' office to the victim."

Q: Maduro has demanded crimes by the right (the opposition) be investigated.

A: "The right has swapped political action for criminal action. You have never seen the right issuing a condemnation every time a person is lynched or burned alive. On Friday, a woman in Barquisimeto was burned to death for being pro-government. Most of these leaders have parliamentary immunity, but they have taken it as a sort of license to commit crimes. Opposition followers are fed up with the fact that the only call they hear is for criminal action, and I am sure that we are just hours away from having a political majority that is in favor of peace.

Q: Will that majority include sectors from the opposition?

A: Absolutely. The political majority does not seek war.

Q: Will the constituent assembly foster dialogue?

A: When the right wing won a majority in congress in 2015, a fundamental imbalance took place because one of the first things it did was to disavow the Chavez movement. The constituent assembly is gong to repair that imbalance.

'The idea is co-existence'

Q: Maduro undertook dialogue with the opposition. Why didn't it achieve anything?

A: Venezuela's main problem is the opposition's lack of unified leadership to reach any kind of agreement. It is deeply divided. But we are going to persist. Dialogue is the only path. The constituent assembly is not designed to annihilate the adversary. It seeks mutual recognition, co-existence and dialogue.

Q: Will congress be dissolved?

A: The idea is co-existence. There must be a process of coexistence. What is not permissible is for the established powers to disavow the decisions made by the constituent assembly.

Q: What will happen with the justice system?

A: The justice system has not lived up to the principles of equality embodied in the revolution, because it must be impartial. It must not have a political component. That balance collapsed, and for this reason we are going to build real rule of law.

Q: Some countries have warned that they are not going to recognize the assembly. Does that deny it legitimacy?

A: For me it is ridiculous to hear such statements. The US position around the world is aggressive. Venezuela has raised its voice and therefore its model is seen as a threat by (Colombian President Juan Manuel) Santos and (Argentine President Mauricio) Macri. What are the elections like in Colombia? The people who vote are the elites and they govern for the oligarchs.

Q: Will the assembly lead to more violence?

A: This violence aimed at toppling the government began on April 6, when there was no constituent assembly. It is up to the opposition to heed the message of the people or that of Washington.

Q: Do you consider yourself a powerful figure within the Chavez movement?

A: It is not about power but rather loyalty to a historical project.

Q: Will the dialogue be aimed at negotiating the end of the Chaves movement?

A: Never. We are never going to betray our historical project. We are never going to surrender. We are open to reaching an understanding, through dialogue. For peace we will do anything. For war, nothing. The Chavez movement is not taking on the Venezuelan right wing but rather the global powers, of which that right wing is a tool.