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German politician Klaus Barthel reflects on rule of law in Venezuela

Klaus Barthel, a member of the German Bundestag, has called for a depoliticization of the judiciary in Venezuela. He tells DW that neither government nor opposition has an idea of how to get out of the economic crisis.

On Sunday, following the release from jail of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, Venezuelan opposition supporters marked 100 days of protests against the government. Thousands of people gathered in an east Caracas square to hear opposition figures speak. "We all know that Leopoldo is innocent" and that there is no reason for him to be in jail, Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, tweeted from the scene.

In an interview with DW, the chairman of the German-South American parliamentary group, Klaus Barthel, called for a return to the rule of law in Venezuela. He said that the opposition and the government should begin a constructive dialogue.

Barthel is the chairman of the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) working group for employee issues and a member of the regional executive committee of the SPD in Bavaria. He is also spokesman for the SPD's Latin America and Caribbean group.

DW: In Venezuela, Attorney General Luisa Ortega is facing impeachment because she criticized the government. What do you think about that?

Klaus Barthel: It is time for Venezuela to return to, and observe the standards for, the rule of law. The work of the judiciary must be depoliticized and the attorney general must continue working.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz holding up a copy of Venezuela's Constitution

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz

So far, all efforts to end the political crisis in Venezuela have failed. What needs to be done? Are new elections a solution?

Presidential elections will be held next year. Regional and municipal elections are scheduled to take place this year. I think it is important that these elections are conducted correctly and according to rules set in the constitution. Furthermore, dialogue within the country must be resumed. The international community can help. The Vatican plays a very important role.

So do you believe that multilateral mediation can help to overcome the crisis?

Yes. However, this also requires that all political forces in the country participate constructively in this dialogue. So far, I do not have the impression that this is happening. Each side is trying to make use of the situation exclusively for its own benefit.

Last Wednesday, a group of government supporters attacked the National Assembly of Venezuela and injured several, opposition members of parliament. President Nicolas Maduro has distanced himself from the violence, but at the same time he emphasized that he would defend the revolution with weapons if need be.

Unfortunately, one sees this attitude of defending one's own position with weapons on both sides. This must be energetically rejected. The government has a duty to guarantee the security of the National Assembly and its parliamentarians. Security guarantees at the moment are insufficient.

Opposition parties in the National Assembly

Opposition parties in the National Assembly

Can the European Union help to overcome the crisis in Venezuela?

We can, for example, support the international talks being mediated by the Vatican. It makes no sense to get involved directly in Venezuela, as this would immediately be seen as interference from outside and would be exploited to escalate the conflict. We must take an indirect and discreet path to help create a serious and sincere dialogue.

Venezuela is one of the largest oil exporters in the world. At the same time, Caracas is one of the most dangerous cities in South America and the country has the highest inflation rate in the world. What can other Latin American countries learn from the Venezuelan crisis?

The example of Venezuela clearly shows what can happen if one is too dependent on the export of raw materials, especially if, as in this case, there is only a single raw material: oil. Even the Chavists (supporters of the late President Hugo Chavez) realized early on that dependency on oil cannot be a successful business model. However, they failed to reduce the dependence. Unfortunately, there seems to be no political force in the country with a reasonable and realistic proposal on how to rebuild the economy. The urgently needed dialogue should not prioritize power distribution, but instead, giving the people economic and social prospects as soon as possible.

The start of anti-government protests in Caracas in April 2017

The start of anti-government protests in Caracas in April 2017

Not too long ago, there was still strong support for the Bolivarian Revolution which was led by Hugo Chavez, but in the current crisis it has declined sharply. Is there support on an international level?

It has its appeal in some places. But we must ask ourselves whether what is happening in Venezuela today has something to do with Chavism. Luisa Ortega, one of the first Chavists, says that many former Hugo Chavez supporters no longer stand behind his successor. What does it still mean to be a Chavist? To Chavez himself, the basic element was always the broad support of the people. This support now barely exists.

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