Borges: We must tear down this wall of fear
Since Jan. 5, Julio Borges has served as speaker of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, Venezuela’s unicameral parliament. It’s a job that comes with challenges the likes of Rep. Paul D. Ryan usually don’t have to deal with:
Question: Some 50 lawmakers in the National Assembly back President Nicolas Maduro’s bloc. Do you ever have a beer with one of them? Can you have a quiet chat?
Answer: “No, that doesn’t exist. Not because we don’t want to, or because they don’t want to, but because they, too, are trapped by their own regime, just like us. [ ...] Many of them wish they could be sitting here with us. But they are trapped by fear. And in the end we have to tear that down, this wall of fear that the government built among the Armed Forces, among the people, among its own officials, so that the country no longer fears change, nor the future.”
Q: Speaking about fear: Many opposition leaders have suffered reprisals. In your daily life, do you feel persecuted? And if so, what do you do about it?
A: “You get used to it, you know? You get used to it because it’s been years of this coexistence. The fact that they go after your communications and your family is common, too. [We do] very simple things: We never speak on the phone; the phone died here in Venezuela. Here, we all use all these applications — BlackBerry, WeChat, WhatsApp, Telegram. You use several to have different alternatives with the government. The issue of having private security guards is a double-edged sword because they infiltrate them or they arrest them, too. In the end, one needs to have the most elementary [solution] in that sense.”
Q: What makes you expose yourself to all of this? Why not just go to Panama tomorrow and say, ‘I’ll be back when things are better.’
A: “One is born into this fight, into this commitment. All my life, I’ve never done anything but this. And I believe it was a personal decision. And a matter of convictions and of values. To be beaten by fear is much more of a defeat than to be in this fight to be able to live in a country in liberty. Honestly, you don’t wonder about those things. The day you wonder about them, you crack your head.”
Q: As a lawyer, how do you feel about Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal, considered Mr. Mauro’s most reliable rubber-stamp?
A: “One feels that what before was an academic problem — when you studied how to better a democracy or feed a democracy — turns into what it means [to experience] repression, psychological torture, persecution, arbitrary arrests, the closure of parliament in spite of the vote, being denied your rights — in other words, to feel, in your own skin, the destruction of liberty. And that’s intense. But we have been in this jungle for so long that we have become strong. But it has been a very traumatic process of destruction of values.”
Q: What are your hopes for your quadruplets? A: “When [former anti-U.S. populist President Hugo] Chavez died, I said: ‘Well, at least my children won’t face the arbitrariness of everything related to Chavez.’ But they have it even worse now . ... They are little kids — they are 9 years old — [and I try] not to poison them with the political realty, but I do try to make them conscious of the country they have and they country they will face. And I hope they have the opportunity — and I trust they will — of this reconstruction and to be protagonists in it.”
Q: You are now a major face of Venezuela’s opposition. You already ran for president once. Would you still like to move into the Miraflores presidential palace?
A: “My biggest ambition is to get out of this regime and make things change. I am not obsessed with being president, I am not obsessed with being in Miraflores. But I am obsessed with achieving change, with building a strong party. And I have never been a person who has done all of this around my personal ambition or personal leadership.”