The student revolt that began last week in Venezuela continues with a big demonstration on February 18 led by Leopoldo López, the leader of the Popular Will Party (Voluntad Popular). López leads the demonstrations at a big risk to himself, as he is now under an order of arrest by the Venezuelan government.*
The protests are not just about inflation, scarcity, and poverty that now characterize the Venezuelan economy, but also about repression and lack of freedom.
In addition, it is about the soul of the Venezuelan nation. Demonstrators have become totally convinced that there is no electoral exit to a regime that turns more and more oppressive as time goes by. Maduro, like Hugo Chávez before him, aims at perpetuating his power and exercising total control over the Venezuelan state and society. The Venezuelan government has secured the loyalty of the military to its despotic rule and has repressed trade unions, the media, business, and professional associations. It has politicized every corner of Venezuela, rewarding loyalist and sycophants and destroying, exiling, and blocking opponents.
The military has no problem in watching how Venezuelans are being killed by the paramilitary. As Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda revealed more than a year ago, Venezuelan and Cuban generals agreed that they would protect the Bolivarian government even by carrying out a self-coup.
The paramilitary used by the Venezuelan government to repress protestors and opponents are mostly thugs that have been given freedom to act by the government that hired them. Such freedom has eventually led to a meteoric increase in crime and insecurity in the country. Rampant crime is not just a social problem. The Chávez and Maduro governments have directly and indirectly encouraged it. Otherwise, how can we explain that an oppressive regime cannot “oppress” its criminals, who continue to enjoy impunity?
So criminality is an integral part of this “progressive” revolution, whose authoritarian nature was given legitimacy in the most recent conference of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Maduro’s repressive measures enjoy a ring of regional supporters and enablers. With the exception of Chile and Costa Rica, no other country has condemned the actions of the Maduro Government. The Union of South American nations (UNASUR), unsurprisingly issued a bizarre communiqué where they express “condolences to the family of the victims” and at the same time “solidarity with the people and government of Venezuela.”
This is nothing but a farce aimed at supporting the Maduro government without seeming to. The secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. But the solution of this conflict is as impossible as the solution to the conflict in Syria. Like the Bashar Assad Regime in Syria, the Venezuelan regime has not been designed to give up power or recognize any other competitive political force.
“I’m not going to give up one millimeter of the power the Venezuelan people have given me . . . nothing will stop me from building this revolution that commandant Chávez left us,” Maduro pointed out.
The United States condemned the “senseless violence” but fell short of repudiating and condemning the Maduro government. The United States expressed concern about the protestors killed by government violence and also about the high number of arrests and detentions. US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the right of citizens to express dissent and called on the Venezuelan government to “provide political space necessary for political dialogue.” Does Kerry really believe that the Maduro government will ever allow a dialogue?
One of the Venezuelan student leaders thanked Secretary Kerry for his words but pointed out that Venezuela “gave birth to new leaders and these leaders will get Venezuela out of this crisis.”
With all due respect to that young leader for his courage and self-confidence, it is clear that the Bolivarian government will never negotiate, because this is a revolution, not some sort of temporary government bound by the constitution.
Venezuelan opposition leaders will need international support, not to do their work, but to help weaken the tyranny that currently rules Venezuela.
So, what needs to be done?
In the past, the United States was not willing to support even friendly repressive regimes whose legitimacy collapsed like the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1986 or the Mubarak regime in Egypt in 2011. How should the United States act towards an unfriendly, repressive regime that not only has lost legitimacy but is also a narco-state allied with subversive groups and is now Iran’s second best ally?
The United States should have applied sanctions on Venezuela a long time ago, given its systematic violation of sanctions against Iran. However, as events now unfold, the time has come for the United States to stop buying oil from Venezuela.
Former assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich stated years ago that the United States could easily survive without Venezuelan oil: when oil prices were high, US Americans found ways to drive less and save gas. Venezuelan oil constitutes only 8 percent of the total US oil supply. We are now producing much more oil and natural gas domestically, so the 8 percent we now import from Venezuela could be easily compensated for. The money Venezuela receives from the export of oil to the United States helps to prop up their tyrannical regime.
Countries of the region do not have the will to pressure the Bolivarian regime to change course. There is no democratic leadership in the area, as these countries have enabled Maduro and at the same time they have also effectively excluded the United States and Canada from the community of American nations.
This is why the Obama administration has nothing to lose by showing strength of character. It needs to impose sanctions on Venezuela to force the Maduro government to stop its repressive regime and open the space to all the political voices in Venezuela. In addition, such sanctions would likely give strength to and further encourage the opposition. It would also benefit US interests not to have a Venezuelan state that is a major trans-shipment point of drugs to the United States; that actively tries to undermine other democratic nations in the region; that works closely with the Iranian government; and is openly hostile to our values and way of life.
*Editor’s note: Leopoldo López is now in police custody.