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Venezuela: Former Chavez allies join opposition's push to recall President Maduro

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and his Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino, in a 2014 file photo.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and his Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino, in a 2014 file photo.  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

A dozen prominent Chavistas have joined the opposition’s call for a vote to recall President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, adding yet another layer to the complex political and financial crisis ripping the country apart.

The group, which includes former lawmakers and three ministers or secretaries under Hugo Chavez’s presidency, wrote an open letter to the National Electoral Board Monday saying the people of Venezuela should be able to express its will via a referendum.

“It wouldn’t be good for the country if the Electoral Power blocks the people’s right for a referendum,” the group wrote.

Among the signatories are Hector Navarro, who headed several ministries during Chavez’s 14-year-term; Ana Elisa Osorio, a former environment minister; and Gustavo Marquez, a former minister of commerce.

The group also includes former lawmakers from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and Cliver Alcalá Cordones, a retired general who held high-rank positions over the last two decades.

Most of the letter signatories previously had expressed a number of concerns about the Maduro administration, but none until now had openly supported a recall vote.

While they are adamant in saying that their new stance doesn’t mean that they are joining the opposition ranks, the anti-Chavista coalition was quick to react to the news.

“Those who were part of Chavez’s power circle are now asking for a referendum,” Jesus Torrealba, head of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), said on his radio show. 

“Maduro is throwing them to the dump of history.”

But former minister Osorio told Fox News Latino that the group’s backing of the referendum does not translate into a call to form a new opposition government.

“We are just defending the referendum process, which is a right Chavez envisioned for the Venezuelan people in the 1999 constitution,” she said.

“We felt the need to speak out because members of the Executive branch have said that the referendum cannot be done this year, which is a lie," Osorio said. "The Electoral Board is the only office capable to decide that,” she added.

Osorio and the dozen other disgruntled Chavistas have created a new political group called Plataforma de Lucha del Chavismo y la Izquierda (Chavista and Left Wing Fight Platform), of which Marea Socialista (Socialist Wave), a former faction of PSUV, and other political leaders are also part.

They still call themselves “Chavistas” but they don’t agree with many of the policies carried out by Maduro's government.

“In the name of Chavez they are doing things that Chavez would never have done. We have to rescue his legacy,” Osorio told FNL.

The unexpected wave of support for a recall vote came on the same day a new Venebarometro poll showed that 58 percent of registered voters nationwide are “very willing” to get the referendum process in motion.

“This [number] shows the increasing support that the referendum has gathered among the people. If the government blocks it, we could see a social reaction of incalculable consequences,” Edgard Gutierrez, head of Venebarometro, told FNL.

Meanwhile, Electoral Board officials say they are still verifying the 409,000 signatures collected in June in support of the referendum.

In the same poll, 34 percent said the opposition should disavow Maduro’s government if the referendum is not done this year.

However, Osorio insists that the people’s frustration is not aimed at Chavismo.

“The emotions that Chavez supporters felt for him are not gone. The public’s uneasiness is all against a government that doesn’t respect his legacy,” she said.

When asked if Chavez made a mistake picking Maduro as his successor, she avoided answering.

“It is a difficult question. Everyone makes a mistake at some point. Maybe Maduro was the one who changed things,” she said.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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