Making the case for Democracy in Venezuela

Venezuelans have become involuntary pawns of the never-ending ideological global battle between left and right. The struggle democrats in Venezuela have undertaken has been reduced to a “minority in the hands of the far-right” (that’s one school of thought), or “shameless beggars waiting for crumbs” (the regime’s talking point).

There is very little (to none) mention to the almost 20 years of effort Venezuela’s opposition has put into an electoral solution to the crisis, first during Chavez (and of course, the global left will remind us all of the 2002 coup they adjudicate absolute responsibility to the opposition as one), and later under Maduro. The regime’s narrative has always labeled the opposition as coup-plotters, at the service of the ‘empire’, and the global left has repeated it tirelessly.

The irony is that the Venezuelan regime with Chavez started a close relationship with Cuba, later extended to China and Russia, and the financial support these two countries have provided turned into a co-ownership that the global left has completely ignored, making their criticism of colonialism intellectually dishonest. The ‘empire’ label fits China and Russia like a glove, but the current outcry with the US support to the Venezuelan opposition apparently ignores the leverage those countries have on the current regime in Venezuela.

An example of this shameful double standard is the involvement of China and Russia in the mining business under control of the Venezuelan military. The calls from environmental activists and organizations warning on the threat these activities represent for the ecosystem have been ignored by the international left. This dubious intellectual honesty, or lack thereof, is the base for claims against the opposition, where instead of aiming at the mismanagement and atrocious violation of human rights, their position is solely based on the rejection of the current American administration.

The Venezuelan crisis has reached a defining moment that could lead to a democratic transition or the consolidation of an authoritarian regime. After years of confrontation between ‘chavismo’ -first with Chavez, then followed by Maduro- and the opposition political parties, the situation is probably in its most critical phase. The National Assembly is the remaining branch of government elected in a competitive election, with the opposition reaching the supermajority, that the Maduro regime has sought to neutralize with the creation of a parallel assembly, aimed at replacing the legislative body. This situation escalated after the National Assembly president, Juan Guaidó, applying article 233 of the Constitution, swore in as interim president with a clear mandate to call for elections, considering that Maduro was not legitimately elected for a second term. A bold move that has had significant consequences, triggering worldwide recognition, with predictable condemnations from allied countries, to the step taken by the opposition.

On the other side, Maduro and his regime have doubled-down on their promise to remain in power, they have resorted to repression, as usual, with more than 40 casualties in the latest confrontations, with the most violent procedures directed to people living in low-income neighborhoods. It is never enough to emphasize the violent nature of the Maduro regime, but what must not be ignored is the military support it continues to receive to remain in power. Venezuela has abandoned any democratic forms, and the military continues to impose its culture of violence in our society.

The efforts by the US, Canada, the Lima Group, along with most members of the European Union, have been instrumental in increasing the pressure on the regime, but it is necessary to stress that change in Venezuela is going to take more than ousting Maduro. The destruction Venezuela has endured with Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro will require a lengthy reconstruction process, the country needs to rebuild political, economic and social institutions. Privatization will be inevitable, and this will deepen differences among the opposition, reminding us of previous rounds of privatization in Carlos Andrés Pérez and Rafael Caldera’s second terms in office, and the consequences (including Chavez’s failed coup in 1992 and his electoral victory in 1998).

Although there are great expectations with the possibility of Maduro leaving power, this is just the first step. There are still no signs of the regime’s fracture, nor of Maduro’s will to concede. The uncertainty is considerable, for all Venezuelans, and the fear for the outcome is intense. If Guaidó is successful, a very difficult transition will start, support will be determinant. The transition will require agreements among the opposition parties, and negotiations with displaced political forces. The calls for justice will not be responded with the swiftness people expect, and the pressure on the transition will be substantial. This could threaten the process, and that is why there needs to be a focus on the final objective and support for the current phase.

Venezuelans deserve a chance to pursue change, peace, and respect. Today nothing seems clear, but there is hope. Their only desire is to recover a sense of living with dignity. We know it’s going to take time and help. Is that too much to ask for?

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