Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado, attacked with clubs and rocks Wednesday by pro-government thugs, is the most recent target of an increasingly desperate Nicolas Maduro regime because of her steadfast resistance to a new round of political negotiations, former Colombian President Andres Pastrana said Thursday.
Pastrana, who had warned two days earlier that Machado’s life was in danger, told el Nuevo Herald that all the actions against Machado were being directed by the secret police, known as SEBIN.
“What we’re seeing is that the stumbling block on the way to the false negotiations” between the regime and the opposition “is María Corina Machado,” Pastrana. said
“Information from friends from the Venezuelan opposition and friends we have in other places pointed to the possibility that they were organizing an attack” against Machado, the former Colombian president added.
Machado is the most popular opposition leader in Venezuela, largely because of her fierce stance against the government and proposals to relaunch what she considers to be a fake negotiation process designed to buy Maduro more time in power.
The attack on Machado sparked widespread indignation at home and abroad, with several political leaders saying that they hold Maduro directly responsible for her safety.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, posted his reaction on Twitter: “Outrageous attack on opposition leader @MarinaCorinaYa, members of her team and lawmakers @omargonzalez6 y @JuanPabloGve. My solidarity with them. These acts cannot remain unpunished.”
Machado, who was attacked along with her team during a visit to the southern city of Upata, told el Nuevo Herald Thursday that she was still sore from the beating and that she believed she escaped from the large group of paramilitary thugs that attacked her thanks to the townspeople who protected her.
“The people helped me. You can’t imagine how the people came out. The guys took the risk and fought with them,” she said.
The attack was the work of a mob of nearly 80 people who approached her as she walked around the city, surrounded by a large group of followers.
Armed men and women rushed the opposition leader, beating her supporters with fists, clubs and other weapons and at times throwing rocks and eggs at them.
Machado said it’s not the first time that she and her supporters have been attacked by paramilitary groups called colectivos. that support Chavismo, the left-wing political ideology of late President Hugo Chavez.
But she emphasized that Wednesday’s attack was different. “The young people who were accompanying me later told us that this time it was different because they somehow felt that they were beaten in order to separate them from me,” she said. “It’s like there was an order to attack me.”
About eight of the attackers, including some women, managed to reach Machado. One of them pulled on her pony tail, wrenching her back.
While one of the attackers held her from behind, others beat her with fists and clubs. A woman hit her on the head with a club, and she was also hit on the nose.
Overall, about 20 people were injured or beaten during the attack, Machado said.
She said she had decided to visit Upata even though she had been warned not to because the city is the heart of a mining mafia controlled by the Maduro government and Colombian guerrillas.
People close to Machado said they feared the attack Wednesday was just a warning, and that the opposition leader’s life was in danger.
Pastrana said information he obtained showed that the government is focused on Machado because her opposition to a dialogue has made it difficult for other opposition activists to agree to a new round of negotiations.
The government, which now faces strong international condemnation, has also been under pressure since the recent death of opposition Caracas city council member Fernando Albán, who died in SEBIN custody. Opposition activists say his body was thrown off the 10th story of the building to hide signs of torture.
Those actions are proof the government “no longer has any limits,” said Pastrana.
Machado said the attack Wednesday did not change her opposition to negotiations.
The Venezuelan people want negotiations with the government, “not to give it time and oxygen but ...to establish its immediate departure, because Venezuela has run out of time,” she said.