Many events have occurred since protests broke out in Venezuela several weeks ago, including the killing of 25 people by the government’s paramilitary. In addition, more than 1,000 people were arrested and others simply disappeared.
Contrary to the Venezuelan president’s pronouncements, this protest movement is composed mostly of young people, not of fascists or the old “oligarchy”. They are not rich and they are not spoiled. These are young people who see no future in a Venezuela that is turning more totalitarian and more repressive as time goes by.
These street mobilizations represent a social movement that could not find in the political system any expression. They are not demanding more food, salary increases, or personal advantage. They are fighting for their freedom and for their dignity. The slogan “Give me liberty or give me death” becomes very much a reality as these protestors find the status –quo in Venezuela increasingly unbearable.
Events in Venezuela encouraged Ecuadorians to vote against the regime of Rafael Correa in recent municipal elections. Correa is a Chavez- follower who is attempting to impose on his people a Bolivarian footprint through his “Citizenship Revolution”. Indeed, Ecuador’s opposition won control of the capital Quito and the large industrial city of Cuenca. Likewise, the port city of Guayaquil continues under the control of the opposition. Correa, himself, admitted the results of the election were a setback for the “Citizens Revolution” and pointed out that it will be harder to govern in light of these losses. Correa, unsurprisingly, accused the elected mayor of Quito of being a fascist- right wing conspirator.
Meanwhile, in Colombia President Manuel Santos took heavy loses in the Congressional elections, while former president Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center won a good number of seats. Although Santos keeps the majority in Congress, his coalition has considerably weakened. Santos, though not part of the Bolivarian coalition, has adopted a more liberal position and is now to negotiating a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) under the auspices of Cuba and Venezuela. Indirectly, the result of this election represents a rejection of Santos’ FARC policies and his closeness with the countries mentioned above.
In fact, after being criticized by the Venezuelan president for helping to foment the protests along with the U.S., Santos abandoned the protesters in favor of Maduro’s phony peace plan.
Then there was the Organization of American States (OAS) that met to discuss the situation in Venezuela at the request of Panama. After 15 hours of debate the OAS approved a declaration that rejected violence and called for justice for the people that have died in Venezuela. However, the declaration still offered support for the Venezuelan government’s peace initiative. Considering how the Maduro government operates, all that can be expected from this initiative is for the government to gain time while tightening the repressive screws further and proceeding to deepen the Bolivarian revolution. This is why the opposition remains skeptical about this move and feels that it is manipulation on the part of the government. In that sense the U.S. took the right position demanding that a trusted third party be the mediator in such dialogue; rightly implying that the Venezuelan government is not trustworthy.
Yet, twenty-nine countries voted in favor of the declaration with the exception of the U.S, Canada and Panama. In addition the OAS Secretary-General, José Miguel Insulza said that the current crisis in Venezuela “does not affect democracy in the continent”. Therefore he sees no reason to invoke the OAS democratic charter. This is characteristic of Insulza who consistently has turned a blind eye to human right issues and democratic institutional deterioration in the Venezuelan Bolivarian Republic.
The events described above confirmed that Insulza and the OAS have totally sided with the Bolivarian revolution. The countries of the region have shown once again that a government of the left is more valuable to them than democracy or human rights. The Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, pointed out that her government “will never accept the deposal of a government that was legitimately elected” as if the Maduro government were the Swedish or the Dutch government. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff stated, “Venezuela is not the Ukraine” since “Venezuela has achieved important social gains in democracy for the poorest sectors of the population and that those gains should be preserved”. Likewise, she insinuated that protests bring about “institutional rupture”. Really? What is the Bolivarian revolution if not the institutional destruction of the legislative and judicial powers of government and the undermining of democracy? Are the social achievements for the poor reflected in an improvement of their condition or was the destruction of the middle class to anyone’s benefit?
Indeed, as the Mexican intellectual, Enrique Krauze recently pointed out that soon the poor pro-Chavez masses are likely to join the protests since scarcity and inflation have affected them as well.
The U.S. administration said all the right things in opposing the OAS position and criticizing Maduro’s peace initiative in defense of the protestors.
A few days later the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met in Santiago, Chile, and decided to send a commission to Venezuela to oversee political dialogue toward recovering peace. This was accepted by Venezuela.
Yet, it is unlikely that the UNASUR Commission, given its past support for the Bolivarian government, would have the desire or ability to restore a constitutional democracy with proper guarantees.
That is why the U.S. Congress has taken some important steps.
First the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Venezuelan government and supporting the protestors. Then, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen followed with a letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to take a more active role in the OAS in an effort to support democracy and human rights. The same letter, which was signed by a substantial number of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, calls for cutting the amount of oil the U.S. imports from Venezuela.
On the Senate side, a similar bipartisan resolution introduced by Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio passed the upper house unanimously. Consequently, both houses of Congress are now moving these letters and resolutions into bills. In the House of Representatives the “‘Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act’’ introduced by Florida Representatives Ros-Lehtinen and Ted Deutch calls to impose international sanctions and deny [o1] U.S. visas against the government of Venezuela with respect to foreign persons who are responsible or accomplices to human rights abuses.
In the Senate, Menendez and Rubio introduced a bill that is similar to the one in the House but also authorizes $15 million to NGO’s and organizations that defend human rights and civil society as well as independent media. This bill, called the “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act” also calls for sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses.
Some may say that the actions that have been taken are insufficient. Maybe so, but these legislative initiatives are extremely important because Venezuela is finally getting the attention it should have had ten years ago. In addition, it shows moral support for the protesters and gives credence and recognition to their cause.
As I and my fellow presenter, Michael Rowan, gave a briefing on Capitol Hill early in March we could sense there was a higher degree of interest in the issue among members of Congress and more of a willingness to take a stand.
The resolutions and possible new legislation in Congress could be a good first step towards encouraging the Obama Administration to play a more active role in the region and apply sanctions against a regime that is definitely an enemy of the United States. Not buying Venezuelan oil or importing significantly less of it would go a long way in weakening the regime.
That is why it is important not to let this moment go. The moment protests cease in Venezuela the world will forget the tragedy of this country, and UNASUR and other neighboring countries will return to their bad habit of defending the Bolivarian Revolution in spite of their undemocratic actions and human rights abuses.
In a larger context, events in Venezuela are not only a problem for Venezuela but for the entirety of Latin America. This is why the title of my recent book is “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era” and not “Venezuela in the Post Chavez Era”. The Bolivarian Revolution is a transnational revolution, it has affected Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. This is without mentioning Cuba that was on board all along. Likewise, countries such as Argentina have adopted a Bolivarian style of government and rhetoric without necessarily adopting a full Bolivarian blueprint.
Therefore, protests in Venezuela need to be supported by Latin American citizens from all across the region and by Americans as well.