WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Politician, governor, presidential candidate, opposition leader and prisoner of conscience all describe one no-nonsense Venezuelan: Oswaldo Álvarez Paz.
Álvarez Paz, 67, has been involved in the Andean nation’s political scene for the past four decades. But he was arrested on March 22 and charged with conspiracy, incitement and spreading false information after saying Venezuela had become a drug haven during a TV show March 8.
“Venezuela has converted into a center of operations that facilitates the business of drug trafficking,” Álvarez Paz said on Venezuelan news station Globovisión.
Álvarez Paz was declared a “prisoner of conscience” by The Human Rights Foundation, a global entity. He was released, pending trial, on May 15.
“The democratic republic in Venezuela is being destroyed by the regime that governs,” he said in an exclusive interview with Infosurhoy.com from his office in Caracas. “The idea [of the Venezuelan government] is the destruction of the values that support the republic and to install a Cuban-style, socialist state.”
Álvarez Paz, a native of Maracaibo, said the tension of Venezuelans toward President Hugo Chávez’s administration is escalating.
“This could precipitate a confrontation that the democratic sectors in Venezuela do not wish,” he said.
The Venezuelan government’s bolstering of the armed forces suggests an expansion of Chávez’s socialist policies beyond the Andean nation, Álvarez Paz said.
“The government has spent US$9 billion in weapons and that looks disproportioned to keep internal order in the country,” he said.
Álvarez Paz said a court order prevents him from commenting on his time in prison.
“I feel fine. I have done my duty,” he said. “I have supported my convictions with my deeds.”
But he shed light on what prisoners of conscience endure behind bars.
“The regime has a policy of criminalizing dissidence, creating cases out of nowhere against politicians or members of the armed forces that are inconvenient for the government,” Álvarez Paz said. “Outside Venezuela these accusations go under the radar because the government charges [prisoners of conscience] with common crimes.”
Álvarez Paz is focused on the efforts of the Unity Table, an organization comprising the Venezuelan opposition, to obtain a majority of seats in the legislative elections on Sept. 26.
“I am not a candidacy-maniac,” he said when asked why he’s not running for office. “We have to transcend the electoral fever and try to consolidate the real oppositionist sentiment. Besides, the Unity Table has made a great effort to reach consensus in the opposition. I rather support them from my trenches.”
Still, he is optimistic for Venezuela’s future.
“I am an optimist, and neither Venezuela nor the world will end soon,” he said. “But from here to there, we have a lot of things to do.”