Español This morning the New York Times published an op-ed by President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro, calling for peace amid a failing state and the biggest wave of opposition protests since he took office. Maduro purportedly calls for dialogue, but the fact is that this op-ed is another one of his monologues that blames almost anyone for the crisis, but himself.
Allow me to utilize the space the PanAm Post has given me to break down and refute some of the most concerning statements the Chavismo heir has made.
Despite the apparent need for peace, Maduro starts off by criticizing the media, since they have allegedly “distorted the reality of [his] country and the facts surrounding the events.” What media Mr. Maduro? There is no independent media in Venezuela, besides citizen journalists via social media. Chavismo has undertaken an aggressive effort to eliminate and intimidate any type of real media that has shown any signs of criticizing the regime.
What we have is a wide range of television, newspapers, and radio stations that praise the government as if it were some kind of supernatural religious being — always right, never wrong. TV channels show cooking programs and cartoons, while National Guard members beat to death and shoot students and violently repress citizens on the streets.
The few newspapers we have left face repression by the government: being shut down, shut up, and having to change their editorial view. The ones that refuse to surrender face a new kind of censorship, where they don’t have the government’s permission to foreign currency, and therefore, can’t import paper to print on! Venezuela didn’t rank 117 in the World Press Freedom Index for nothing.
Maduro leaves aside the fact that he publicly insults anyone who disagrees with him, using state-media, paid with our own taxes, to slander and direct homophobic slurs at members of the opposition. Is this the same man who writes that “we have built a participatory democratic movement”? This is the same man who uses the word “fascist,” with no apparent knowledge on what it actually means, towards anyone who disagrees with his mentor’s so-called revolution.
The Equitable Distribution of Misery
He then proudly talks about how his movement “has ensured that both power and resources are equitably distributed among our people.” I then ask why, for the first time in the history of this country, Venezuelans, rich and poor, have to endure long lines to find, if they are lucky, cooking oil, milk, corn flour, toilet paper, chicken, or any other item that is no longer on the supermarket shelves. Even according to the Chavista Central Bank, the index for scarcity was 28 percent last January, and the annual inflation rate has already surpassed 50 percent.
The purpose of this revolution has not been to make productive, independent individuals, but rather, dependent subjects of the state. People living in poverty now sign up for the new government “misión” — social welfare program — and receive a monthly allowance. This is extremely important to highlight; the government has wanted everyone to believe that poverty is improving because people are receiving money, when that same numerical value of money does not have the same purchasing power, and even worse, it doesn’t serve any purpose if there’s nothing to buy.
Maduro speaks highly of how they are “monitoring businesses to ensure they are not gouging consumers or hoarding products.” According to him, there is an “economic war” led by businesses that prefer not to sell their products, and therefore lose profits. If you have common sense, and believe in a free market, you will understand how ludicrous this all sounds. Business is business, and entrepreneurs are not going to willingly lose profits for political ideologies. That romantic revolutionary speech may have worked in the past, but in 21st century people just don’t buy it.
Maduro aims to belittle the protests by saying that since Chavismo has so many achievements in the social realm, there’s no reason to complain. If we live in democracy, aren’t we allowed to exercise our rights and denounce the abuses of the state, no matter what socioeconomic status we have? Aren’t we all the same in the eyes of the state?
Under this regime, the answer is no. The government has tried to diminish the importance of a social protest by saying that they “are being carried out by people in the wealthier segments of society,” as if they have fewer rights than the poor, and as if they have no moral claim to a better standard of living for themselves and for the rest of the society.
The constant effort toward dividing everything into rich and poor, and consequently, into good and evil, has led to a polarized society and a perfect environment for movements like Chavismo, which works on the basis of resentment and class warfare. I believe Maduro needs to wake up, and realize he has the responsibility to run a country with various constituencies, and denying the other perspectives won’t solve his legitimacy problems.
His whole argument follows the premise that democracy is solely about winning elections. This has been Chavismo‘s rhetoric all along: we won the elections; we can do whatever we want. The concept of democracy has been distorted, and sold as the tyranny of the majority, when in reality democracy also necessitates respect for minorities, pluralism, and coexistence.
However, these rules don’t suit the regime, to which peace means silence, and therefore, the complete absence of debate.
The Monstrous State and the Subsidized Society
It’s ironic that Maduro is proud of Venezuela’s health care system, when this is nothing new. Free health care existed long before Chávez arrived. And second, one has a hard time seeing what he has to be proud of, given that the deterioration of hospitals and public schools are an embarrassment to this nation. Doctors and teachers earn miserable salaries, and lack the basic supplies to conduct their work.
The shortages in hospitals, schools, and supermarkets are due to Maduro’s alleged “solutions,” and have only worsened in our already collapsing economy. The “new market-based foreign exchange system” he proudly speaks of has seen its fourth devaluation in a year, and has imposed the draconian controls on foreign currency.
You may wonder, how can an oil country that receives a stream of dollars every day have such restrictive controls? Very simple, they are the result of a monstrous welfare state that gives away subsidized food, houses, cars, and electronic supplies to build a political base that can be blackmailed every time an election comes.
But the money is never enough for the state to cover all basic human needs. That’s why the private sector should exist, to fulfill every need the consumer has, not that Venezuela’s regime is open to this reality. Instead, it has bought every company in all major sectors (electricity, communications, media, food, and the list goes on) and ruined them. They are now ghosts of what Venezuela once was: a prosperous country.
Justice’s Double Standard
Besides scarcity and inflation, insecurity is the most concerning problem for Venezuelans. “We are addressing this by building a new national police force, strengthening community-police cooperation and revamping our prison system,” Maduro writes.
Pull the other one. The fact is that a high number of crimes have the police involved, the impunity rate has reached 91.8 percent, according to the attorney general, and the prisons are the ultimate schools for crime. We even have “inmates” living it up at our very own paradise prison on Margarita Island.*
Maduro then continues, “as a former union organizer, I believe profoundly in the right to association and in the civic duty to ensure that justice prevails by voicing legitimate concerns through peaceful assembly and protest.”
It seems contradictory when a month ago he improvised a new norm that violated the constitution and forced everyone to request a permit to protest in the country. Now, the opposition is not allowed to march in any Chavista-ruled municipality, and much less, get near a government building like the National Assembly or the Presidential Palace. If they do, security forces have orders to violently repress any citizen present. For the regime, these are the true criminals of the fatherland.
His excuse? He blames peaceful protests for being violent, in spite of all the evidence that points out the presence of government provocateurs working hand in hand with the National Guard to sabotage. Being the president of a nation, he doesn’t even bother to mention the students murdered by members of Colectivos — paramilitary Chavista groups. He only recognizes the deaths of those who support him; anything else never happened.
Naively, according to the government’s conspiracy theory, the protesters who died were shot in the head by their own people. The reality is that the more violence there is, the better for him. Anything to distract the people from the real problems they have, due to his incapacity to govern this country, is a winning situation for the regime.
While the crimes remain unpunished, Maduro tries to make the situation better by creating a Human Rights Council, headed by — yes that’s right — the executive branch of the same government. So a state that suffers from no balance or distribution of powers will attempt to investigate the abuses it commits.
Wouldn’t it be better if the state were to refrain from violating any human right in the first place?
At the end of the article, Maduro begs Obama’s administration not to enact sanctions against them. Where did all the anti-imperialist speech go?
Apparently, “Now is a time for dialogue and diplomacy,” he writes. “Within Venezuela, we have extended a hand to the opposition.”
So far the hand is nowhere to be seen: political prisoners are still behind bars, the hate speech continues, the repression only rises, and the justice appears to be a synonym for political revenge.
* Editor’s note: we have removed a quote from Diosdado Cabello, given that we were unable to verify its authenticity.