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Venezuelan opposition in contact with Russia "on several levels," leader says

5 killed amid political violence in Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader Yon Goicoechea spent 15 months imprisoned by the Maduro regime from August 2016 to November 2017 after he was accused of inciting violence against the state after leading student protests. He currently sits on the national board of the Voluntad Popular political party, and is a member of the transitional government for Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly. If and when Guaidó takes control of the country from President Nicolás Maduro, Goicoechea will be tasked with overseeing the energy department in a new government.

Goicoechea is a 34-year-old attorney with a law degree from Columbia University. He is the recipient of the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty by the Cato Institute. His work with Guaidó goes back at least 15 years, when the two were student activists who opposed Hugo Chavez's government.

Guaidó has been recognized by the U.S. and other countries as the rightful legitimate president of Venezuela. On Tuesday, Guaidó called upon the Venezuelan people and the army to rise up against Maduro, a call to action that caused chaos and did not lead to a change in the government.

On Saturday, Goicoechea spoke with CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz. He discussed the opposition's communications with Russia "on several levels"; the opposition's ongoing negotiations with the Maduro regime, including an offer of amnesty to defectors; and the possible military intervention by the U.S., which Goicoechea said should be only a last resort.

Venezuela Mayoral Elections
Yon Goicoechea seen Dec. 7, 2017. AP

The opposition's contacts with Russia

DIAZ: Is the opposition speaking to the Russians?

GOICOECHEA: Well, at some level, yes, what we have done is to express our will and our commitment to respect their investments in Venezuela, to recognize our debts with the Russians and to invite them to invest and participate in the new Venezuela. It's better for the Russians...

DIAZ: Who has made that communication with the Russians? Has Guaidó?

GOICOECHEA: At several levels — we have done that at several levels.

DIAZ: This week? Recently?

GOICOECHEA: Recently, and one year ago and six months ago. It's something tried to do in terms of politics and policy — for us it's important to let them know that we are going to respect international investments in Venezuela. We are fighting for Venezuela which is ruled by the law — which is in international protections of investment because we know this system doesn't work. 

So it's even better for Russia to have us in power — that means a democracy that will respect their debts and that we will have the possibility of paying back — this government doesn't have any chance of paying that back.

Negotiations with the Maduro regime

DIAZ: And how are these negotiations going? 

GOICOECHEA: In some cases, very well. For the first time in probably two decades we have a fluid conversation with people within the government and those people want to find a way to overcome Maduro and to find a place in the new democracy in Venezuela. 

DIAZ: Are these leaders in the government? Are these leaders in the military? Because earlier this week the U.S. said that there were a handful of high level members of the government who were ready to join the opposition, but then the next day we saw them standing next to Maduro showing their loyalty to him. 

GOICOECHEA: Well, you know what happens every time in a dictatorship. The only day in which the military shows discontent with the dictatorship is the last day of a dictatorship. I'm not afraid of that. We all know what happened. 

The role Russia and Cuba have played in the ongoing presidential crisis

GOICOECHEA: [Cuba and Russia] are here. They have a huge intelligence operation right now in Venezuela, they are spying on our military, they are accusing our military. 

DIAZ: Do you believe they are influencing the military and influencing Maduro? 

GOICOECHEA: They are influencing Maduro, protecting Maduro and spying on our military. The main purpose of these countries here is to collect information, to avoid a coup and that's what they do — but the influence is real, it's important and it's dangerous, dangerous for the Venezuelan people. 

On possible U.S. military intervention

DIAZ: The U.S. has said it is committed to seeing transition of power — would you want help from the U.S.? 

GOICOECHEA: No one wants an intervention, but I see it may be possible, it may be necessary, an intervention. 

No one in Venezuela wants an intervention of any country in our territory. I want a democratic, free, independent Venezuela, a peaceful Venezuela. I don't want war in Venezuela. 

And I want to find a political way out for Maduro. If that is possible, that's of course my first option. But what we won't do is stand a dictatorship for 20 more years. 

Goicoechea's message for the American people

GOICOECHEA: This isn't about an alliance with President Trump — this is an alliance with a very important country in this world, with a very admired country in this world, and with people who believe in freedom.

So we kindly — we appreciate that you don't polarize Venezuelan issues in the United States. It's not a matter of supporting Trump or being against Trump: It's about values we have in common with the Western Hemisphere, defending people who are starving and getting mistreated in every way. We do share values with Donald Trump as we do share values with Democrats, as we do share values with the whole of the American people. Be aware the fight for Venezuela should be bipartisan and not even about a political party at all. It's about human values and our human condition that is being violated here in Venezuela.

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