- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2016

Venezuela’s top diplomat in Washington says that the media are only telling one side of the story.

Bernardo Alvarez, Caracas’s ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), told a Washington think tank Thursday that critics are playing up the problems faced by the government of populist President Nicolas Maduro in order to provoke international intervention.

“We don’t believe in using the term ‘humanitarian crisis’ because according to us that is very much linked to the campaign asking for international intervention,” Mr. Alvarez told a packed gathering at the Inter-American Dialogue. “We do recognize that there is suffering, and there are problems, but we are going to move ahead.”

Critics say that Mr. Maduro has mismanaged the economy while cracking down on political dissent, but the ambassador, who is also vice minister for North America at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave an unapologetic defense of his government’s policy.

“If you only see the economic and social figures of this [anti-government] political media campaign, Venezuela should be worse than Syria. But it’s not,” Mr. Alvarez said.

The ambassador said he believes Venezuela is at a turning point after the Democratic Unity Roundtable won a supermajority in the National Assembly late last year. Rising political tensions have come amid a faltering economy, consumer goods shortages and a record drought that has forced power rationing.

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“Is there promise? Yes. We have lost 70 percent of our oil income, and over the past four years there has been a 60 percent reduction in imports. This is a huge adjustment,” he said.

Mr. Alvarez stood his ground as skeptical audience members peppered him with questions.

Regarding the opposition parties’ push for a quick referendum vote, Mr. Alvarez said, “Politics is a matter of time. You have to allow time to move and the political process to unfold. We have the responsibility to go through and do it in a peaceful process.”

As the process continues, Mr. Alvarez said the most important thing is for all sides to refrain from violence as the political and economic drama plays out.

“I talked to the people in the opposition and said, ‘You have our support, you have the constitution, and you have the international community supporting you. Please do not go for the violence,” he said.

Earlier this month, the opposition-led assembly formally asked OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro to suspend the country from the regional body over what the opposition calls an “institutional and humanitarian crisis.” Mr. Almagro has spoken out sharply against Mr. Maduro, calling him a “petty dictator” earlier this month.

Mr. Alvarez dismissed the matter as “a soap opera.”

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