A prominent Venezuelan opposition leader has vowed to challenge her ouster from the National Assembly

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. There's a whole lot of drama in Venezuela surrounding the recent street demonstrations there and not just in the streets. Lawmakers are also tangled up in some high drama. Take Maria Corina Machado. She, like many in the opposition, wants President Nicolas Maduro to resign. She even flew to Washington to speak up against repression in Venezuela before the Organization of American States. That did not sit well with Maduro and his allies. They responded by expelling Machado from her seat and stripping her from parliamentary immunity. George Ciccariello-Maher teaches political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He says there's more to the story.

Ciccariello-Maher: We should bear in mind that Machado was already being investigated for her ties to some of these more violent opposition protests and so she was in the process of having her immunity withdrawn. But as it turned out, the president of the National Assembly took a much quicker route when Machado went to speak to the Organization of American States and as she was not given time to speak in the OAS, Panama, which has taken a sort of anti-Chavez line, offered her its seat temporarily. The argument of the head of the National Assembly is that in so doing, Machado became temporarily the representative of another country which is forbidden by Venezuelan law for parliamentarians, and this is something that was upheld by the Supreme Court in Venezuela.

Werman: If that's against the law, how can they even recognize it in the first place? It seems more like a stunt.

Ciccariello-Maher: It certainly was a stunt and I think there's a lot of performance going on on both sides at this point. This is part of the jousting that's going on back and forth between the Chavista leadership and the opposition and the real fundamental question is whether this is going to help or hurt this opposition. The interesting thing is that Machado is someone who is already seen very suspiciously by the Chavista grass roots. She's someone who had signed the declaration that actually dissolved all public powers during the coup d'etat in 2002 and so this really just plays into the idea that here is an individual who is treasonous and this is the accusation that's being made by some high level Chavismo.

Werman: How does she figure into the current tension between the Venezuelan government and people protesting in the street. Does she share the concerns of the protesters or is she in the political fight for her own ends?

Ciccariello-Maher: It's both of the above. She certainly sided with someone like Leopoldo López and is being on the far right with regard to supporting these protests, supporting the more radical street tactics. But the question then also on the ground is what is her relationship to what have become increasingly violent protests. Certainly the Venezuelan government, or at least some individuals in the security forces used a heavy hand on February the 12th when these protests began and several opposition protesters were killed, but actually as the days and weeks rolled on, it became more and more evident that the violence was falling on both sides. There have been six national guards shot and killed, there have been a number of Chavistas killed for trying to cross blockades to get to work. The question is to what degree are some other leaders complicit in this street violence.

Werman: It seems like internal politics in Venezuela but maybe you can make the case for why this very diverse opposition in Venezuela right now is worthy of American attention.

Ciccariello-Maher: The reality is the Venezuelan opposition did very well in the elections in April, for the first time in many years, indeed more than a decade, they claim close to defeating a Chavista. But what we are also experiencing is an over-representation where people who speak English, people who are very good at using Twitter have become something that the US liberals have projected their desires upon. You have tweeting about what's going on in Venezuela without realizing that there's a small sector of the country that's in the streets, that the majority still supports the Maduro government and is attempting to, beyond the Maduro government, press toward a more democratic country than existed previously. But they don't see these protests as the way to do it, they instead the local communal councils or the communes that are being built on the grass roots level in Venezuela as a vehicle for producing the kind of socialism that the government has been promising for more than a decade.

Werman: Finally, George, was Maria Corina Machado successful in getting her seat back today?

Ciccariello-Maher: No, she was not and I think it's going to be very unlikely, especially now that the Supreme Court has ruled that she did indeed violate this question of representing another country when she sat in the Panamanian seat at the OAS.

Werman: George Ciccariello-Maher teaches political science at Drexel University. Thanks very much.

Ciccariello-Maher: Thanks for having me.