A valuable, very well written analysis of the Venezuelan crisis has been produced by the International Crisis Group, see: http://images.eluniversal.com//2013/05/15/international_crisis_group_venezuela.pdf.
However, the document makes some assertions that I consider to be fundamental misconceptions. I comment on them as follows:
Comments on selected portions of the report
Report. But to address the governance crisis and allow Venezuela to tackle its seriouseconomic and social problems, national dialogue must prevail over confrontation
and consensus over partisan violence.
Gustavo. This call for national dialogue would be logical in a country where both sides are democratic and only at odds regarding policy. But the Venezuelan situation is different. The two sides represent not only opposite political but also ethical postures. Churchill did not try to dialogue with Hitler. Neville Chamberlain did. History should be a teacher.
Report. Short-sighted behavior by either side could propel the country into a politicaland economic crisis from which it would be difficult to recover. It is encouraging that
the opposition leadership has emphasized non-violent forms of dissent. There have
also been indications from the government that some of its members understand the
need for dialogue and consensus, though this has not yet been followed by corresponding
actions. Ideally Maduro would appoint some opposition figures to his government,
but at the very least those in position to do so on both sides need to initiate dialogue and consensus building now.
Gustavo. Again, this call for common sense reminds me of the poor peasant that was ill and depressed and went to the doctor. The doctor told him: Your solution is easy. All you need to do is take a vacation, go to Paris or Rome. The idea that Maduro would appoint opposition figures to his government or that opposition figures would accept such appointment collides with all we know about the real Venezuelan situation. Maduro is committed to a “revolution” and a coalition government would mean the end of the “revolution”. It would be easier for the peasant of the story to go to Rome or Paris than for Maduro to call for a coalition.
Report . Multilateral organizations, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Organization of American States (OAS), and regional powers, such as Brazil, need to make clear that they will not tolerate further destruction of the rule of law and democratic values. To avoid unpredictable escalation of the polarization and political violence:
q Government and opposition must express commitment publicly to peaceful meansof resolving the political crisis, instructing followers that violence – and confrontational
rhetoric that could incite violence – is not permissible, and those who
engage in it will be treated in full accordance with the law.
q The government should recognize that the sharp division of the electorate necessitatesconsensus building, not a partisan agenda. It should build bridges to the
opposition, the private sector and civil society, conducting a dialogue to reduce
tensions and find common ground. The Catholic Church, regional partners and
the international community in general should support this approach and be
ready, if asked, to provide mediation at an appropriate point.
The Supreme Court’s electoral chamber should deal fully and transparently with
all complaints of violence, intimidation and irregularities, if necessary ordering a
re-vote in centers where such incidents cast substantial doubt on the original.
The government should make clear that it supports such measures, and, if they
are taken, all sides should immediately recognize the election’s validity.
and freedom of expression, abstaining from threats and legal proceedings
against the independent media and reprisals against public employees suspected
of opposition sympathies; and the armed forces must act fully within the constitution,
which prohibits their participation in partisan politics.
and UNASUR, should encourage a non-violent solution of the political crisis and
offer themselves as facilitators and mediators.
Report. In parallel, he [Chavez] had created dozens of social “missions” – welfareprograms covering everything from literacy and primary health care to housing,
pensions and indigenous rights that earned him the fervent support of millions, especially
among the poor.
Gustavo: This is only half of the truth. The other half is that his policy of handouts, the main claim to Chavez’s reputation as a defender of the poor, will turn out to be his major crime. After money runs out, and it is running out, the poor will be poorer than ever because they were not effectively taught to be self-starters but told to wait sitting down for the free house, ice box, bonuses, the food, free (and poor) education and transport, since they “deserved” all without working for it.
Report. The sudden departure from the scene of what may have been theone man capable of holding the regime together without resorting to outright dictatorship
is thus a significant destabilizing factor.
Gustavo: It is true that, technically, Chavez could have been defined as a “stabilizing” political factor…. in the same manner that losing both legs leads to a restful life. Providing political stability by authoritarian means is not our idea of a desirable political system. Gomez (ruled 1908-1935) gave Venezuela stability: “Paz y trabajo”, was his slogan. Peace in the cemetery and work building roads in shackles.
by its dominant, more moderate wing of extra-constitutional paths to regime change.
But there remains a small minority that has consistently questioned
competing with the regime on its own terms and would be strengthened were
the remaining democratic spaces to be closed.
Gustavo: In general, I would agree that peaceful means are desirable, as long as both sides are playing in a level field. If not, then peace at all costs can no longer be considered a satisfactory solution. Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution demands citizens to rebel against an authoritarian, undemocratic government. The report seems to label this posture as extremist. I disagree.
Report. Nevertheless, there are some indications that a more pragmatic and inclusive linecould prevail and that dialogue may be possible. On 7 May, government and opposition
legislators approved a “gentlemen´s agreement” on the need to eschew violence
on the floor of the Assembly, a first step to possible normalization of parliamentary
activities. On the economic front, where unpopular measures are urgently required,
the replacement as finance minister of the hard-liner Jorge Giordani by the more
flexible Nelson Merentes, and an unexpected approach by the new agriculture minister,
Yván Gil, to the private sector, are grounds for some optimism.77 The appointment
of a moderate, Calixto Ortega, as chargé d’affaires of the embassy in Washington,
and a call for dialogue with the opposition by influential former Vice President
José Vicente Rangel are also positive signs. If the immediate passion resulting on
both sides over the disputed election can be calmed, there will be opportunities for
their moderates to pursue such a dialogue and begin the healing process.
Gustavo: Crime is usually committed in the name of pragmatism. A gentleman’s agreement with people like Pedro Carreño is an oxymoron. Giordani displaced laterally as a major improvement? Not really, he is still doing much harm. Calixto Ortega a moderate? He is a semi-illiterate gambler. Jose Vicente Rangel a peace maker? Obviously the author of the report do not know this man.
Can indignation over electoral fraud be simply called a “passion that should subside”? I strongly disagree. .
R. With the country politically split into two almost equal parts, there is no future
for a policy based on the permanent exclusion of one or the other.
Gustavo: This assumption about the country split into two almost equal parts requires close examination. Large portions of the population are totally indifferent to the political situation. 2.3 million public employees are loyal to whoever is in government and pays their salaries on time. Millions of Venezuelans are excluded from the decision-making process and will flow with the prevailing current. The Chavez followers of today were the followers of the Accion Democratica party yesterday. True and committed ideological clash is reserved for a small Venezuelan minority.
Report. Most of the international community has been indifferent or at least silent whenassessing the deterioration of democracy and rule of law in Venezuela. Concern to
protect economic interests and a perhaps excessive respect for internal affairs have
meant that the deepening polarization that now poses a clear and present danger of
political violence and further instability has produced only episodic and mild reactions.
It is time for stronger messages, particularly from neighbors and partners,
such as Brazil. International organizations, including UNASUR and the OAS, must
clearly signal concerns regarding regional instability. This should include a call to all
parties for peaceful resolution of the political impasse, with respect for promotion of
democracy, rule of law and human rights.
Gustavo: Many Latin American governments are simply milking the Venezuelan regime. Protection of economic interests? Yes. Political whores abound, from Mujica in Uruguay to Santos in Colombia.
In summary: the report is rather naïve. It fails to define realistically the Venezuelan political arena. On the other hand the narrative is excellent, very well-written. Description is better than prescription.