Why There Are No Easy Solutions for Venezuela as Maduro Drives the Country to the Brink of Disaster
EspañolThe question of whether Venezuela is a dictatorship or not has been settled; the facts are overwhelming and open for all to see. When elections are cancelled without just cause and, on top of that, no date for future elections is announced; when the government proposes to get rid of political parties while neutering all faculties of congress; when the regime keeps political prisoners in jail and systematically violates property rights… When all of this takes place simultaneously, there is no doubt that Venezuelans are living under a dictatorship.
The problem at hand is not to define what type of regime is in place in Venezuela, nor is it time to discuss the subtleties of the government’s character. Is it more or less communist rather than fascist, or are we simply faced with a mafioso state? The time for theoretical discussions has passed; we must now find the means to put an end to a situation that affects not only Venezuela, but also the whole of Latin America.
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The Organization of American States (OAS) has decided to act. Already 20 countries, including every important country in the region, have expressed their alarm about Venezuela’s current crisis. They have also demanded a peaceful, negotiated settlement which includes the calling of free elections and the liberation of all political prisoners. For the first time in many years, the OAS has taken a firm stand, surely because the new administration in the United States has abandoned Barack Obama’s passivity and excessive tolerance toward Venezuela’s despot. Also, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s former foreign minister, has stood up for the freedom of the Venezuelan people.
But diplomatic initiatives, even if carried out with good intentions, are not enough to put an end to a regime as vicious as that of Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro is clinging to power desperately because he and his main cronies are aware of the dark future that awaits them were they to step down. It seems to me, in fact, that dialogues, joint declarations, and international summits can be very helpful for dictators since they offer them an opportunity to distract their citizens’ attention from their real problems at home. By defending himself from criticism abroad, a dictator can buy himself valuable time and strengthen his grip on power in his own country.
Dictatorships end by one of the following three means: the first option, which one can immediately rule out in today’s Venezuela, is a voluntary surrender of power when the dictator realizes that he lacks sufficient popular support or because he considers that he has fulfilled his mission. The second way to end a dictatorship is a military coup which ousts the strongman with or without popular support. The third choice is a massive movement of civil resistance that corners the dictator and forces him to surrender power.
It doesn’t seem as if those in charge of the Venezuelan military, whose top brass is completely corrupt, have the necessary incentives to give up the comfortable positions they enjoy today. They know that the people rejects them, that international support would be hard to come by, and that the reward for removing Maduro from the presidency is to inherit the maximum responsibility in a country that is experiencing the worst crisis in its history. This is not only an economic and fiscal crisis, but also a political and moral crisis. I have always thought that Venezuela’s military leadership would only be willing to move against the government if the country becomes absolutely ungovernable.
Civic resistance, on the other hand, requires a strong leadership which Venezuela lacks at the moment. The political opposition is completely pacifist and its leaders are sticklers for legal niceties. The opposition has neither clarity in terms of its political vision nor the backbone to wage battle beyond the framework that the dictatorship has set up thinking only, of course, of its own advantage. The Venezuelan opposition is a mere reactionary force incapable of showing initiative. What is worse, they are incapable of truly challenging the Maduro regime. Nothing results from demands, protests, and complaints if the people against whom you are protesting utterly despise all basic liberties and even the constitutional order itself. The thugs in charge of Venezuela are capable of anything— literally anything without exception— in order to hold on to power.
Therefore, I do not see a prompt solution to Venezuela’s current crisis. I recognize that international pressure against the regime is important and that it can be very helpful at this very moment. Left to themselves, however, circumstances will not get rid of a government that has consolidated its hold on supreme authority for 20 years. The solution requires a massive internal mobilization of the citizenry, a change of leadership, and a drastically different attitude from ordinary Venezuelans and opposition politicians alike. Nevertheless, it is not realistic to expect any such changes in the near future.
As things stand, the best outcome one can expect from the example of Venezuela’s downfall is for all Latin Americans to recognize that the price of electing or even accepting those who treat basic liberties and republican institutions with contempt is a miserable dead end.