Venezuelan opposition receives EU's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought
Julio Borges (r) and Antonio Ledezma (l) receive the Sakharov Prize 2017 on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition, during a ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on December 13, 2017. (Photo: Ian Langsdon EFE/EPA)
Strasbourg (France), Dec 13 (efe-epa) .- “I am yearning for the moment when the prison doors will open, all exiled people will return and we all will embrace each other,” the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Julio Borges, said when he received the 2017 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on behalf of the opposition of Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Borges, one of the eight recipients of this award, said in his acceptance speech to the MEPs in Strasbourg that the award "honors the 157 young Venezuelans killed by the government’s brutal repression during the peaceful protests" in 2017.
Borges, the head of a National Assembly where the opposition holds the majority, but its powers are curtailed by the judiciary, and the former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who escaped house arrest just a month ago, came to Strasbourg to receive the award.
Family members of the other six recipients - the political leader Leopoldo Lopez (under house arrest), the recently released activist Yon Goicoechea, and the "political prisoners" Andrea Gonzalez, Daniel Ceballos, Alfredo Ramos and Lorent Saleh – were also present at the award ceremony.
Around 20 members of the Left-wing alliance of the European Parliament boycotted the ceremony, claiming that the award for the year 2017 was politically motivated.
Observers for the presidential elections
The Sakharov “is received by a whole and united Venezuela,” Borges said.
“It is an acknowledgment for mothers denying themselves food to save their children, for children rummaging in the rubbish to satiate their hunger, for old people wasting away to death because of a lack of medicines,” and, above all for the people who died during the protests.
The Venezuelan National Assembly president urged Europe to continue its support to the opposition and send an observers team for presidential elections to be held in 2018.
"We have the challenge of recovering electoral conditions that allow Venezuelans to express themselves freely at the polls, without blackmail, without pressure of any kind, without repression and their will being respected," said Borges.
Ledezma, in exile in Spain, accepted an award that "reinforces and energizes all Venezuelans who fight for democracy in the world."
Recalling words of the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who spent seven years under house arrest in the 1980s, he requested Europe to "stand firm in its commitment to achieve the freedom of more than 300 prisoners and 30 million Venezuelans who do not breathe an air of freedom.”
"We, the family members of political prisoners received the Sakharov prize from @Europarl_ES at the headquarters of @EUenVenezuela, thanks for this recognition that pushes us to continue defending the human rights," Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, who accompanies him in his confinement and is banned from leaving Venezuela, wrote on Twitter.
Tajani: It is “not at all a political prize"
The Venezuelan democratic opposition prevailed over two other finalists for the Sakharov Prize: the Eritrean writer Dawit Isaak, who has been imprisoned without trial since 2001, and the Guatemalan indigenous leader Aura Lolita Chavez.
After the ceremony, MEP José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP) said he was pleased that "the democratic opposition of Venezuela could received the Sakharov Prize, given that it is difficult to find a testimony of integrity and freedom of thought that can better represent the values of the prize".
According to the EPP, Maduro has turned the country into a full-fledged dictatorship.
European Parliament’s Left-wing alliance groups have voiced different opinions. MEPs Javier Couso and Marina Albiol of Spain’s Left United (IU) said in a statement that the prize had been used for political motives.
"The awardees of the prize represent a violent opposition that has been seeking since 2002 to overthrow the governments, democratically elected by the Venezuelan people, with a coup d’etat," they said.
And the most important human rights award granted in Europe, is used by the big European Parliament groups "as a tool to legitimize certain positions and decisions in foreign policy that we consider wrong," they criticized.
The Sakharov is "not at all a political prize", the president of the Europe Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said during the press conference after the ceremony, without commenting on some of the MEPs absences from it.
Zapatero, "committed" to a dialogue solution
Both Ledezma as well as Borges were confident that the opposition represented by them will reach a consensus on a candidate for the presidential elections in late 2018.
"We already demonstrated our transparency in the snap elections in 2012 and 2013. I have no doubt that the sense of responsibility will prevail when choosing a candidate," said Ledezma commenting on the lack of unity between the different opposition parties.
Ledezma has also been critical of the role of the former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who is facilitating the dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition and said he was still "committed" to a solution through dialogue.
Zapatero said the Venezuelan opposition comprises 4 major and 5 smaller parties, and the 4 major ones – A New Era, Democratic Action, Popular Will and First Justice – are involved in the Venezuelan dialogue process.
By Lara Malvesí and Julia R. Arévalo
Translated by Meena Gupta Seth
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