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Venezuela’s Democratic Crisis Compels International Community to Forgo Complacency

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Feb 19, 2014, 3:08 pm

EspañolThe unconcealed dictatorial exploitation and human rights violations by Nicolás Maduro’s government in recent weeks have forced the democratic governments of the Americas to abandon the comfortable silence and shameful complacency they’ve previously shown.

Most governments in the hemisphere have not been able to ignore the avalanche of photos, videos, and other recordings and statements from citizens and the press — more international than domestic due to media censorship and existing blocks within the country. The images revealed the undeniable: state law enforcement, military, and intelligence officers, accompanied by militant Chavistacolectivo” groups, disrupted the peaceful march of citizens in Caracas and various other cities on February 12, resulting in three individuals killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested.

Neighboring governments can’t help but notice that, far from taking responsibility for his actions and correcting his behavior, Maduro has maintained his radical and oppressive stance in the days following the incident. The police and military continue to patrol the streets — suppressing peaceful protests, arresting activists — while a group of intelligence officers, without a warrant, invaded the headquarters of the opposition Popular Will Party.

The only action the government has taken is to publicly condemn the militant Chavista gangs — although without disarming them — and dismiss the director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) for its excessive force during the February 12 demonstrations. Maduro said the reason for the director’s dismissal was his failure to carry out a stand down order. However, the real reason may be the increasing allegations and evidence surrounding Melvin Collazos, deputy of SEBIN, as the man responsible for the murder of student Basil Da Costa that day.

Regional neighbors are also concerned that Maduro’s government, faced with grave circumstances, will resign itself to the usual script: lie and distort reality by blaming others, including “external actors.” There is international concern that the government may be concealing evidence — as it did in April of 2002 — in attempts to convince the world that recent events are the result of a “fascist coup d’etat” aided by Barack Obama’s US government and other foreign personalities, like former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

This conspiratorial and anti-imperialist script is no longer believable. Since 2002, the international community has accumulated sufficient evidence of undemocratic behavior and constitutional and human rights violations by both of the nation’s authoritarian governments promoting “Socialism of the 21st Century.” Foreign governments, up until to now, have preferred to remain silent on these issues in order to preserve their own self interests, especially economic. But they’ve always known the reality, and during these times of economic downturn, socio-political unrest, and unconcealed government outbursts — like our country is experiencing today — they are beginning to react.

Even still, action from the international community has been lukewarm. They’ve only been slightly convincing in statements of support, and have been limited to pleas for an end to the violence and dialogue between the government and the opposition. The statements by the president of Colombia and the United States’ secretary of state have not deviated from this diplomatic framework, even though they have been openly critical of the Venezuelan government. The comments by Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) José Miguel Insulza have been in the same vein, given that OAS has yet to call for an emergency meeting, as provided for in their charter when a disturbance occurs in a member country.

As of writing, the regional bodies that have come forward to speak on this issue have been the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). The first, UNASUR, was too moderate — even if Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua tried to modify the content of their message to his favor when reading it over radio and television. In the text of the message, members of UNASUR reiterate the call for “defense of democratic order, rule of law, and its intuitions” and “all political and social forces in the country to favor discourse and harmony when seeking solutions in accordance with constitutional law.”

The statement by MERCOSUR is along the same lines, and repudiates “all forms of violence and intolerance that seek to undermine democracy and its institutions, whatever their origin.” It does, however, indirectly favor the position of Nicolás Maduro by expressing a “firm rejection of any threat that disrupts legitimate democratic order as constituted by the popular vote,” and affirms to “confide fully that the Venezuelan government will not rest in its efforts to maintain peace and basic guarantees for all citizens.”

The governments that have made public statements so far have done so with great diplomatic care, either given a lack of firm inquiry into the events, or out of fear for what a strong condemnation of Maduro might bring. Only the countries that follow the Bolivarian project — members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) — have dared to speak openly and strongly — and, of course, have done so in support of Maduro.

Despite the warmth of diplomacy the Venezuelan government has received, it has reacted irresponsibly (or desperately), and in a disproportionate manner. To the statements made by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former President of Chile Sebastián Piñera, Maduro responded with strong attacks and threats. Likewise, statements from the United States were replied to with the expulsion of diplomatic officials (of consular rank) from the US embassy in Caracas, further weakening relations with Venezuela’s principal oil client.

To the extent that the government refuses to rectify the situation and take genuine measures to improve a national dialogue, democratic governments of the hemisphere will have no other decent and democratic choice but to repudiate the government of Venezuela, as political figures like former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias has done, openly accusing them of a “flagrant disregard for human rights.”

So what will Maduro’s government do? Will he fight and break relations with his neighbors? Will he continue down the path to international isolation, and, in doing so, join the Castrista Cuban regime?

Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.