Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a state of emergency in an effort to suppress the National Assembly and mass protests. The state of emergency is not aimed at fixing the dreadful inflation, scarcity of food and medicines, and the resulting desperation of the Venezuelan people. The aim is to shut down any opposition activity and save a government that has lost any hope of legitimacy.
As in Cuba, the government’s actions are not aimed at finding solutions to specific problems or formulating new policies or programs that could benefit Venezuelan citizens. These measures are meant to strengthen the government’s hold on power, which if it is not stopped, will become a tyrannical monarchy like that in Cuba, Ceausescu’s Romania, or even an authoritarian Sultanic type of regime like Somoza’s Nicaragua.
This state of emergency suppresses all the rights and guarantees of the citizenry. It gives the army and police additional powers to keep public order, with the backing of pro-government, mostly violent civilian groups. The decree mainly aims at making the repression official and legitimate, blocking the recall referendum and getting rid of the National Assembly, which has been acting as a major opposition force.
In addition, Maduro has moved to give all the countries closed down businesses to the workers in order to increase productivity and radicalize the revolution. Maduro has accused business owners of deliberately closing down their businesses in order to sabotage the government by cutting production. Of course, that is nonsense as their businesses were no longer profitable in the authoritarian, socialist, and anti-business economy of the Bolivarian revolution. The workers are not likely to increase production either. But it is an excuse to justify the current situation and not assume responsibility for what has been the result of failed government policies.
The National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition, rejected the state of emergency by a clear majority. However, Maduro is appealing to the packed Supreme Court, which is likely to overrule the National Assembly vote.
As soon as the state of emergency was declared, both pro- and anti-government activists went to the streets. Violence erupted and public anger increased as shortages of food, medicines, general services, and electricity continue.
A poll has indicated that 70% of the population opposes Maduro. In other words, chaos and civil war are at the gates of Venezuelan society. A civil war in Venezuela could have serious consequences for the region.
Like every civil war, it could attract the intervention of unwelcome powers such as Russia that could intervene in support of Nicolas Maduro. We are not even mentioning Cuba because Cuba has been implanted on the side of Chavez and Maduro from the beginning, actively supporting the repressive apparatus. Iran, another Maduro ally, may be busy trying to help Bashar Al Assad in Syria but Hezbollah cells are active and harbored in the Andean Caribbean country and they are likely to assist a friend in trouble.
The question now is how the international community has reacted.
The European Union expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Venezuela but urged Maduro to respect human rights even under the emergency decree. The Maduro government has not respected human rights before this decree, so how exactly does the EU expect that it would do so now. The EU also called for a national dialogue to overcome the crisis. The Maduro government, like Chavez before him, has never been interested in any dialogue because they have seen themselves as holders of the absolute truth and the only ones entitled to hold the reins of power.
Clearly, the EU is proposing solutions that are pure fantasy.
Furthermore, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), an organization founded by Hugo Chavez and the left-wing coalition that dominated the region for more than a decade, sent former Spanish Prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to mediate the crisis. Zapatero, a socialist, was one of the most left-wing leaders in Europe. Under the government of Zapatero, Spain and Venezuela signed numerous commercial contracts including the sale of military equipment. Likewise, the Spanish oil company Repsol signed important oil contracts with Venezuela including production at the Perla gas field off the coast of Venezuela, the largest known offshore deposit in Latin America. Zapatero seemed to have realized that and walked away from this responsibility but it showed how UNASUR tries to save Maduro’s government at all cost.
The Union of Latin American Parties (UPLA), an organization of center-right Latin American parties asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to apply article 20 of its democratic charter. This provision would enable any country to approach the OAS permanent council and request measures to restore the constitutional order in Venezuela. Maduro already rejected the authority of the OAS and it is not clear whether this institution could take effective measures to change the situation in Venezuela. The regional map has changed as Argentina has a new government that is not sympathetic to the Maduro regime and Brazil has a transitional government since the current president Dilma Rousseff, a supporter of Mr. Maduro is being impeached.
However, even if both South American giants support regime change in Venezuela, it is not clear if the OAS could enforce any measure or be effective in producing positive change in the country.
It is here that the United States could enter the picture as a member of the OAS and as a leader in the Western Hemisphere.
So far, the reaction of the Obama Administration has been cautious and distant. Although the Administration expressed concern over the “the economic and political meltdown in Venezuela,” it expressed doubts that Maduro would allow a recall referendum. Administration officials also believe that Maduro would not be able to complete his term. The Administration speculates that Maduro would be removed by his own party or by a military coup. As we explained in our last article, none of these possibilities are good because it either will be a continuation of a regime that has been totalitarian from the very beginning with or without Maduro.
Obama Administration officials have also said that Washington has little leverage in the crisis since anything the U.S. does could draw accusations of U.S. aided conspiracies.
This argument is absurd. First, nobody in Venezuela really believes that anymore and if they do, those conspiracies would even be welcomed in the face of people dying in hospitals, hunger, devastation, and violence. It is only U.S. leadership that could bring about global sanctions against the government of Venezuela. The U.S. should impose new sanctions on Venezuela and bring along the Europeans and if possible the rest of the region (although, I doubt that the latter is possible but it is always worthwhile to try).
An ideal situation would be to establish an international coalition that manages to sanction government officials in a targeted way and at the same time help the people of Venezuela survive the torment of hunger and violence.
If we remain indifferent, somebody else will intervene as happened in Syria and our credibility and moral authority will be emasculated for years and perhaps decades to come.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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