Dialogue in life should be a good thing.  Dialogue should lead to compromise.  Dialogue should be an equalizer; a moderator.  So why is the current dialogue between the Venezuelan dictator Maduro and the democratically elected opposition right now so cynical and dangerous?

If the core tenet of the dialogue were the replacement of the illegitimate dictatorial Maduro regime and the peaceful transition to democracy, then we would of course concur. Anything else, however, is nothing short of a farce. 

Let us not forget that a constitutionally legal petition – with over two million signatures –demanding a referendum on the president’s rule has been stymied by the regime and its cronies. 

We jumped though all the legal hoops only to have the path to freedom brutally blocked.  It is important to understand that if the required referendum is held after 10 January 2017, then even if Maduro loses, he will be replaced by his deputy, and the regime will have won. 

The current dialogue is mere filibustering, but without the democracy!

Dialogue for the sake of dialogue is bad enough.  But what is happening now is actually weaponized dialogue. 

Every day the dialogue goes on, heels are dragged and the average Venezuelan continues to starve. 

Procrastination through conversations will not solve food and medicine shortages, nor will it remedy the street violence, nor will Venezuelans wake up suddenly enjoying their constitutional and human rights. 

Free and fair democratic elections are pushed further and further away.

While we appreciate the positive intentions of the Vatican, one must never equate a dictatorial regime and a democratically elected opposition. This moral equivalence cannot be the basis of productive talks.

The government, through its totalitarian rule, must bear full responsibility for the crisis due to its crude combination of alarming corruption, mismanagement of the nation’s wealth and natural resources, and complete abandonment of the Venezuelan people and their basic rights. With the support of the Vatican, these talks are unwittingly legitimizing the regime and ignoring their systematic human right violations. 

The few members of the opposition that concurred to these talks have therefore been naively duped by a dangerous dialogue in which they are forced to accept the fictitious claims of the regime that the country’s woes are due to international menacing, “economic boycott and sabotage”.  We refuse to share the blame for the greatest embezzlement of our public finances and destruction of our economy, and so should them.

Political prisoners, Venezuela’s very own prisoners of conscience, our brothers and sisters, rot in cells while the cynical regime uses them as negotiating chips. These are young, innocent people in some of the worst conditions on the planet, whose only crime was to stand up and speak out for a better future. This sort of dialogue only incentivizes further hostage-taking, a sorry fact supported by yet even more arbitrary arrests in the last few weeks.

Let’s not forget the urgency of the situation.  Caracas now has more monthly homicides than both Kabul and Baghdad. Our health system is disintegrating. Our justice system is non-existent. As for the economy, the International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation will rise to nearly 500 percent this year and potentially by 2,200 percent in 2017.

When time is of the essence, engaging in these talks is both a strategic mirage and a tactical mistake.

It is a mistake to confuse peace with submission and surrender.

And it is a mistake to confuse dialogue with justice.

Millions of brave citizens have taken to the streets peacefully to demand a way out of this crisis that is ending lives, dreams and financial savings with every day that passes.

All freedom loving Venezuelans must continue to stand united to defeat the dictatorship and rebuild Venezuela. Through international pressure and the implementation of the Democratic Charter of the OAS, and of course firm, sustained, civic citizen pressure in the streets of our country, Maduro can and will be defeated; and Venezuela can be saved. 

So it is time for Venezuelans to stand up and be counted because as dialogue continues, time (as well as food, medicine and toilet paper) is running out. 

María Corina Machado, is one of the current leaders of the movement for democracy in Venezuela. She is a former primary candidate for president, former member of the National Assembly of Venezuela and leader of Vente Venezuela.