Whither Venezuela

In your own language

Eduardo del Buey
Foto: Afp
La Jornada Maya

Martes 22 de agosto, 2017

There is much debate about Venezuela these days, and for good reason.

President Nicolas Maduro is busy consolidating absolute power in the country, destroying democratic institutions, and creating a dictatorship. Cuban security and military forces are closely advising the regime and, in some cases, running security agencies. In addition, much Venezuelan oil and funding has flowed from Venezuela to Cuba and other Caribbean states, which no doubt ensures their support in international forums.

To be fair, many Cuban doctors and teachers have provided a degree of education and health services to the poorer barrios of Venezuela, underscoring the years of neglect under previous governments that preferred to syphon off much of the wealth generated by oil revenues through corruption rather than to use them address the needs of the people.

So, there is much to debate, and much blame to go around for the amount of distrust each side has for the other.

Thanks to Chavez and Maduro, Venezuela today is an economic and political basket case. Its economy produces nothing of worth but petroleum, and this sector is declining due to mismanagement and corruption. All commodities must be imported at a time when oil prices are low, and shortages of basic products and medicines are rampant.

So, whither Venezuela?

President Trump’s recent statement that a military option is still on the table does not sit well with many Latin Americans. Indeed, many of the Venezuelan opposition groups have come out against a US intervention, knowing full well that this would help Maduro consolidate the support of his followers and independents (much as Castro did in the face of a potential US invasion and an ongoing economic blockade), and would weaken the resolve of other Latin American governments to help support reversing the current attack on democratic institutions.

And the opposition?

Thus far, the opposition has proven incapable of dislodging the Maduro regime despite polls that indicate that a solid majority of Venezuelans want to see an end to the regime.

Why?

Because opposition leaders are each busy trying to grab their quota of power, this allows Maduro to divide and conquer.

Many Venezuelans ask what can be done.

The answer is an end to current politicking and jockeying for power and influence by the opposition, and a commitment to unite under one leader with one political platform the majority of Venezuelans can rally behind until changes are realized.

Sixty years of successive Venezuelans governments have proven incapable of addressing the needs of all Venezuelans, plagued by ideological differences and entrenched corruption, both within liberal democratic governments and socialist governments.

Frustration with liberal democratic governments led to Hugo Chavez and, subsequently, Nicolas Maduro, supported by the hitherto disenfranchised classes, who have benefited from the social programs that high oil prices made possible. The military, empowered to run large parts of the economy, also support the regime, although there are rumblings of discontent in the lower ranks.

The new economic and social model has failed, however, as a result of significantly reduced oil prices and the disappearance of domestic production in all sectors. This has been accompanied by the implementation over time of an authoritarian and populist political model.

The Supreme Court and the justice system are under the firm control of Maduro loyalists, defeating the democratic principle of separation of powers. The organs of justice are subservient to the will of the President, and a good part of the economy is under the thumb of the military – hence their support for the regime.

Today, a majority of Venezuelans appear to oppose the demise of democracy, according to polls, and have occupied the streets for the past five months. They also constitutionally elected an opposition Congress that Maduro has effectively neutered, replacing it with Constituent Assembly ready to do Maduro’s bidding.

However, when faced with a chance to vote in the elections against the creation of a Constituent Assembly, the opposition decided to abstain, foregoing an excellent opportunity to repudiate the government and its plans to rewrite the constitution to meet its objectives at the ballot box.

In my view, this was a strategic mistake, because a massive repudiation of Maduro’s proposal would have sent a strong message to government as well as the international community.

So, is dialogue possible currently?

Negotiations at this stage may well not work. The opposition is distrustful of the regime, see negotiations as a way for the government to buy time to consolidate its power, and mediators to date have yet to establish credibility on both sides.

But, and this is an important “but”, there currently is no single opposition leader recognized by the whole of the opposition with whom to negotiate, or a political platform agreed to by all of the opposition that could serve as a negotiating position.

A consolidated opposition under one leader, with a strong presence on the street and national and international support could be a viable interlocutor. With the help of a visionary mediator, a dialogue could begin that could lead to a peaceful resolution of the current situation and turn it away from becoming a full dictatorship.

The answer lies not in military intervention by the United States.

If intervention is to work, it must be in the form of an individual mediator or a group of governments that enjoy credibility on both sides.

To date, most would-be mediators and governments—including the Organization of American States -- appear to have taken sides, rendering them ineligible. Yet mediation is the only way to avoid further bloodshed. Perhaps a Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General could undertake this role.

While this is sorted out, the question remains: does the opposition have the maturity to create a coherent and united leadership and platform around which the opposition can coalesce, and negotiate successfully?

This remains a fundamental starting point.