Argentina: The Next Venezuela-Style Dictatorship?

EspañolThe case of Rodolfo González, found dead on March 12 in a Caracas prison, and the police killing of the young Venezuelan Kluiverth Roa in late February, shocked many across Latin America.

The region’s politicians, however, have been curiously silent about these cases, and other instances of human-rights abuses. One person is not afraid to speak out against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, however: Argentinean Congresswoman Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann.

In a conversation with the PanAm Post, Schmidt-Liermann shared her concerns that Argentina is heading down the same road to ruin as Venezuela, with rampant inflation destroying citizens’ incomes and high-profile cases of government impunity dominating the headlines.

She also fears that an unholy alliance between populist governing elites in Cuba, Venezuela, and Argentina, is more alive than ever: spelling bad news for ordinary people across Latin America.

Why is it important for the region to discuss and take action on what’s happening in Venezuela?

I think we should do so because Venezuelans are our brothers, they’re Latin Americans, and they’re living under a genuine dictatorship. Their human rights are being violated.

The lawmaker took her seat in the Argentinean Congress in 2011.
The lawmaker took her seat in the Argentinean Congress in 2011. (Twitter)

Unfortunately, we Argentineans have unfinished business with Cuba: we haven’t come forth to defend Cubans like we should have. And now we’re seeing that Venezuela is going through hell, with systematic human-rights violations.

It’s terrible that, in this day and age, there’s a country that uses the law to violate rights. Those of us who are in politics should not allow it.

There’s also a more selfish reason, which is that one sees and fears that Argentina may go in a similar direction. One recognizes certain strategies of our Kirchnerista government that are almost a mirror image of what’s been implemented in Venezuela.

We must help Venezuelans denounce the things that are happening, always through legal and respectful means. The goal is that Venezuela may tread the path of real democracy, because that would benefit us all.

Do you think the Inter-American Democratic Charter could be implemented in Venezuela’s case?

Hopefully. I think it will be very difficult. We have presented several proposals and requests. The president of the Mercosur commission in the Argentinean Congress also asked for it two weeks ago, but we are requesting it wherever we can.

I believe and hope that the leaders who represent us in these international organizations — such as the OAS, Unasur, the UN, which I consider important — will reread their laws, and realize that they have to go out and defend people, rather than governments.

What similarities do you see between Argentina and Venezuela?

We’re already facing a huge amount of government interventionism, which breaks with the Argentinean Constitution based upon Juan Bautista Alberdi‘s ideas. It’s a generous Constitution, which believes in human beings and gives them broad freedom. Under it’s provisions, the state must act only when necessary.

The first thing the Venezuelan government did, as well as Kirchner, is to end with that. But there’s also an element of discretion: it’s not an equal interventionism for all. There are several hand-picked exceptions; it’s unfair and not transparent.

If we had clear rules and we relied on free trade and human creativity, we could do much better.

The congresswoman met with Venezuelans in Buenos Aires. (Twitter)
The congresswoman met with Venezuelans in Buenos Aires. (Twitter)

Another similarity is the way they communicate with their citizens. You can increasingly tell that if it were up to Cristina [Kirchner], there would be no “opposition” media outlets. They look for enemies in the same way. They both need to create enemies, so they can be blamed for everything that goes wrong.

The other dangerous issue is something which Maduro has almost accomplished: annihilating independent journalism. They see no need for journalism to act as an intermediary between the public and politicians. To me, that is absolutely fatal. Journalism and questions help me as a politician to see if I am headed in the right direction or not. It’s feedback; a fundamental tool.

Both the Venezuelan government and Kirchner’s seek to end with the intermediary, the journalist, and try to communicate with citizens unilaterally and directly.

Moreover, both employ great rhetoric. They’re very skilled. They manage to convey a reality in their speeches that is not true, and sometimes tell lies as if they were realities, so audaciously … But I can’t blame the president, someone must have given her bad information.

You’re the founder of the Latin American Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Cuba. Do you think the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will help to establish democracy on the island, or will it strengthen the Castro dictatorship?

I’m very cautious. It may be a good opportunity, if it comes with demands for more freedom in Cuba, more respect for human rights. Otherwise, my greatest fear is that the dictatorship will mutate and continue to benefit only a few, and not the average Cuban.

If changes come hand in hand with actual guidelines and conditions, as well as training programs for ordinary Cuban citizens, so that they can go to [the United States] and get an education, access the internet without problems, basic things … In that case, I say it will work. Otherwise, it’s dangerous.

I’m not saying this must happen overnight, but there needs to be a plan, and perhaps the normalization of relations should be conditional.

I fear that the United States may unwittingly become complicit in the mutation of a dictatorship whose essence will not change.

Translated by Rebeca Morla. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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