EspañolWith the Venezuelan economy in freefall, the cracks within the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are increasingly obvious. President Nicolás Maduro lacks the necessary stature to base the party on his persona alone. Unlike the late Hugo Chávez, Maduro is no charismatic leader.
The strong cult of personality that Chávez exercised for more than a decade set the bar very high for his successors. Maduro couldn’t create a new Madurismo, so he presented himself as a medium to the late former president, and decided to build his legacy in the shadow of a corpse.
His failure has provoked questions among party cadres about his ability to successfully represent Chavismo. Maduro’s legitimacy for Chavistas depends more on his faithfulness in carrying out Chávez’s legacy on earth than his own performance in democratic elections.
Proponents of Chavismo are increasingly labeling Maduro a false messiah. Suddenly, the president isn’t so Chavista, and various groupings within the PSUV are now beginning to question his handling of the supreme authority of the party and the country since Chávez’s death at the beginning of 2013.
Proponents of Chavismo are increasingly labeling Maduro a false messiah.
In June, former Planning Minister Jorge Giordani published a damning open letter against Maduro and his way of running the country. Its harshness did not rest in the words that Giordani used to criticize, albeit mildly, a political process of which he himself was a first-rank protagonist. Rather, the damage came from the fact that one of the most long-standing ministers of the Chavista cabinet had dared to defy Chávez’s representative on earth.
“It’s painful and worrying to see a Presidency that doesn’t show leadership,” said the former minister, who spent 15 years in the cabinet. Giordani further criticized the “repetition of the approaches formulated by Comandante Chávez, without the necessary coherency,” and the “bestowal of massive resources to whoever asks for them, without a fiscal plan grounded on socialist planning that once gave consistency to such activities.”
Chávez’s anointed successor to the Venezuelan presidency has faced worsening opposition within his own party. The economy, high crime rates, and the repression of individuals’ rights are piling pressure on Maduro’s government, whose disapproval ratings are around 67 percent.
Armed collectives — paramilitary groups loyal to Chavismo — are also on the attack against the president. At the beginning of October, the murders of a young National Assembly representative, Robert Serra, and members of a Chavista collective associated with him, put these groupings on a war footing. “Our revolution is peaceful, but not unarmed,” 260 armed collectives affirmed, rejecting a request by Maduro for them to hand their weapons over under a National Disarmament Plan.
Marea Socialista, or Socialist Tide, a group made up of Chavista intellectuals critical of Maduro’s leadership, became the object of a party purge on Thursday, November 20. Three leaders of the group were expunged from the party register, thus excluding them from taking part in internal elections that took place on Sunday, November 22.
“The PSUV leadership should know that we’re Chavistas, and that their divisive and anti-democratic actions show who’s really attacking the legacy of Chávez. To those who naively think that Socialist Tide will go over to the opposition, we’re Chavistas! We’re against corrupt leaders wherever they are!” said Nicmer Evens.
These groups are far from demanding a return to democracy, the restoration of the rule of law, or respect for individual rights. By its very definition, Chavismo excludes all of this. A system based on imposing state power over individual decisions could never meet these requirements.
The Wrath of Maduro
The frustration that Maduro feels in finding himself in a position of such weakness is shown by periodic inter-party violence, which only further evidences his inability to alleviate the crisis that the country is suffering. His confrontations with the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, appear to have been put to one side.
Now Cabello, who has designs of his own on the presidency, can be found at Maduro’s right-hand side, collaborating with him to impose party discipline. However, the duo can’t help but frequently express their frustration through backchannels.
“Supreme loyalty to the legacy of Chávez!” exclaimed Cabello before PSUV activists. A week later, the Chavista party opened up a phone line through which people could denounce “spies,” declaring a “civil Cold War.” Added to the start of this party purge was a package of 45 laws approved last week, in which the President decreed a tax hike on several products, among other regulations.
With a general shortage of basic goods, a wave of violence leaving 68 dead in 2013 alone — added to a total of 24,763 murders — and the price of petroleum hitting its lowest levels in recent years, the widening cracks in the PSUV edifice are only one problem more that Maduro has to confront.
While at the local level opposition coalition the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) is reorganizing under its charismatic secretary general, Jesús Torrealba, international pressure on the Venezuelan regime is rising — except from Latin-American countries. Furthermore, following the Republican victory in US legislative elections in November, there are renewed hopes about applying sanctions against Chavista officials for human-rights violations.
The weakness of Maduro’s position is generating uncertainty over the near future in Venezuela. In October, the president sought to confirm the loyalty of the armed forces with a salary increase of 45 percent. The politicization of the army and its loyalty towards Chavismo could combine to eventually replace the current president — who has a mandate until 2019 — with another, more popular, PSUV boss.
In contrast to what was said in an interview published by Reuters, Chavismo doesn’t run the risk of implosion — it can survive without Nicolás Maduro. The need to call elections, or for any screen of of constitutionality, doesn’t worry the party that has brought Venezuela to the brink of total collapse.
The likelihood of a democratic transition is uncertain, and the endurance of the regime will have its next test in 2015, when legislative elections will be held. The list of candidates will likely reflect the rise of different groups to the leadership of the PSUV, and there the future of Maduro and Chavismo may be glimpsed. Amid an atmosphere of almost complete uncertainty and nascent party purges, a transition — in one form or another — may begin to unfold.
Español All Individuals Have the Right to Die with Dignity By Matthew Hayes For the last years of her life, my grandmother did not want to live. She suffered from advanced heart disease and renal failure. After battling a bacteria infection acquired during surgery, she was left weak and confused — a shell of the woman she had been. She couldn't take care of herself. Leaving the house became dangerous. Hosting Sunday dinners, a tradition she held for nearly 50 years, became too much. All the things that made life enjoyable were quickly being taken away from her. And she did not want to live. We talked often about her desire to die. Life was not worth living, she told me, without autonomy. She wanted to die happy and with some dignity left. But we lived in New York State, where physician-assisted suicide is not an option. She could not end her life on her own terms, so instead she suffered: a crippling stroke; massive blood loss after an angiogram; dialysis; constant hospitalization; and mistreatment by staff. Month after month, she sank further into despair. On the morning of May 21, 2011, we received a call from the hospital: the end was near. When we arrived, she laid in a hospital bed, unconscious, face clenched up in pain. She was surrounded by family and friends, but could not say her goodbyes. Death took her slowly, agonizingly, until finally she let out her last breath. After nearly two years, her suffering was finally over. This story is not unique. It's the story of countless terminally ill patients who want to end their lives with dignity. Why should we force people to endure such physical and emotional pain? Is there a better way? In 1997, Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act, allowing terminally ill patients the right to end their lives through the use of physician-prescribed lethal medications. Once received, individuals may choose when, if ever, to take them. Since then, 1,173 patients have elected to participate in the program. Of them, 65 percent have chosen to die. Today, assisted suicide is legal in four US states and three countries. While this is a great start, it is not enough. Doctors everywhere should be free to offer euthanasia for terminal illnesses. This is not to say aid-in-death should be left unchecked. Laws should be narrow and specific. Regulatory systems should be in place to thwart involuntary euthanasia and assess for psychiatric illnesses. Practices and medications should be routinely updated to reflect new information. Despite these efforts, we must remember that no system is infallible, and there will always be unintended consequences. These risks alone do not warrant inaction, however. If they did, we would have no governments, no legal systems, and no health care of any kind. It is not the existence of risk but how we respond to it that determines our outcomes. By acknowledging the risk involved, and letting it guide our policymaking, we can better protect patients, families, and physicians. US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said, "An ignoble end steeped in decay is abhorrent. A quiet, proud death, bodily integrity still intact, is a matter of extreme confidence." In a perfect world, end-of-life care would involve no suffering. Individuals would live to the end of their days happy and satisfied. But that is not the world we live in. Individuals, like my grandmother, suffer terrible fates, to the anguish of their families and themselves. While we should strive for this standard of care, no one should be categorically denied the right to a quiet, proud death. Matthew Hayes is a public policy researcher in Portland, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter: @mattayes. Assisted Suicide Laws Empower Doctors to Prescribe Death By Derek Miedema Brittany Maynard’s choice to kill herself thrust assisted suicide into headlines around North America. It’s horribly tragic for a beautiful, engaging, and active 29-year-old woman to face a painful death. Her husband, suddenly a widower, is grieving both her illness and death. Maynard’s choice was presented through videos which used music and photos to convey her decision as freeing and dignified. While we can empathize with the difficult situation, behind the poignant advocacy for assisted suicide lie deeper questions: Can we declare that someone is better off dead? If so, who determines when a person reaches that point? No one likes to think about living life at a reduced capacity. But suggesting a certain quality of life is not worth living infringes on those who may experience such a life. People with disabilities hear others proclaim the “better off dead” opinion regularly. “I’d rather be dead than be in a wheelchair,” or “I’d rather die than have someone wipe my bum.” Maybe even: “I’d rather be dead than need a respirator to help me breathe.” It’s a shame when someone thinks of themselves this way. It’s even scarier when individuals declare another person “better off dead” on the basis of their situation. Assisted suicide requires a doctor to agree, “you’re better off dead.” Consider the Belgian doctor who killed a transgendered person who couldn’t live with the outcome of a botched sex change operation, or the deaf twin brothers who couldn’t bear the diagnosis that they were also going blind. The Dutch now kill seriously ill infants with parental consent. Alzheimer’s patients who are no longer capable of making the decision have been euthanized in that country. This belief that some humans are better off dead is part of the reason why, once the option to kill (euthanasia) or help commit suicide (assisted suicide) is legal, there is always pressure to expand the criteria for who qualifies. In the Netherlands, the expansion of euthanasia is striking. Mobile euthanasia units were initiated in 2012, so doctors could do home visits to kill patients whose own doctors wouldn’t kill them. The Dutch recently killed a woman who was “suffering unbearably” because she was going blind. The Belgian Parliament has made it legal for a child to choose euthanasia if their parents agree, and a psychologist has verified that the child knew what he or she was doing. The Maynard case presents the choice as the patient’s alone, but these decisions are not immune from outside influence. In Washington State, where assisted suicide is legal and euthanasia not, letter writers responded to a newspaper article’s discussion on paying for care in old age by suggesting that euthanasia could be a solution. Could such a suggestion be made in a place without a history of legal assisted suicide? It may seem a huge leap from Maynard’s videos to that attitude, but all that’s required is the acceptance that death is a compassionate and good solution to suffering. It’s one thing for individuals like Brittany Maynard to accept this. It’s another for her doctor to do the same. Don’t forget that where assisted suicide is legal, doctors, not patients, have the final choice of who dies this way. This does not empower individual choice. It empowers doctors. Imagine for a moment that you were diagnosed with cancer. How would you feel if your doctor suggested, as an option other than chemotherapy, that you might just kill yourself instead? He would be, intentionally or not, stating that you’d be better off dead because you’d avoid the suffering and save the health system lots of money. Is this what we want for our grandparents or parents as they age? Do we want our children to grow up in a society that views people this way? This isn’t, I’m sure, what Brittany Maynard wanted. It is, however, the truth behind the change she advocated. When society defines increasing numbers of people as better off dead, and these people themselves agree, giving doctors the right to help them commit suicide makes our society a toxic soup for the vulnerable among us. Derek Miedema is a researcher at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. [yop_poll id="17"]