Venezuela: Vicious Cycle Continues

By CLALS Staff

Photo Credit: Cancillería Ecuador / Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Photo Credit: Cancillería Ecuador / Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

UNASUR has shown energy and flexibility as a facilitator during the Venezuela crisis, but neither the government, nor its opponents, nor the opposition’s allies in Washington have matched it – prolonging the vicious cycle that’s been plaguing the country for years.  Speaking as UNASUR, the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador reflected the continent’s frustration when they threw up their hands this week and left Caracas after another failed attempt to get a national dialogue on track.  Their statements represented a balance between the UNASUR members that are generally perceived as tolerant of the Venezuelan government’s “Bolivarian” revolution and those perceived as opposing it.  They reiterated calls, issued officially in Suriname on 16 May, for both sides to “achieve a broad dialogue that permits Venezuelans, without interference, to reach an accord that guarantees peaceful coexistence and stability in the country.”

The government, opposition and Washington have not heeded the appeal by UNASUR and the Vatican’s nuncio to be constructive and patient.  The government’s attack on opposition and student camps in early May and subsequent arrest of more than 200 protestors highlighted the authoritarian tendencies that have given momentum to the demonstrations.  The Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD), representing important sectors of the opposition, gave the foreign ministers yet another list of demands – including a Truth Commission investigating rights violations (and not headed by the pro-government president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello) and the selection of an entirely new National Elections Council.  The MUD’s executive secretary declared that he has no interest in participating in a peña or chit-chat session, and said, “The ball is in the government’s court.”  Although U.S. Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson said during a hearing that sanctions were premature (a statement that she attributed to “confusion”), the foreign affairs committees in both house of the U.S. Congress – without objection from the Obama Administration – have passed bills authorizing an array of punitive measures against Venezuelan officials.  The legislation also authorizes an additional $15 million dollars in aid to the government’s opponents.

The less overtly political agenda that first sparked the protests in February – soaring crime rates, rocketing inflation, and shortages of basic goods and services – has been overshadowed by the shouts of opposition leaders eager to force President Maduro from office and by Maduro’s defenses from the plotting against him.  Demands that Maduro negotiate with a foreign-funded opposition that has as its clear goal his removal as constitutionally legitimate president – something no head of state in the hemisphere would accept – naturally keep his bases on edge.  Political leaders on both sides manipulate popular opinion and claim el pueblo as supporting them.  Another of each side’s real strengths is its ability to portray itself as a victim of the unfairness of the other – because their victimhood rationalizes whatever actions they wish to take.  In that regard, the U.S. sanctions against the government and subsidies to the opposition play into Maduro’s hand.  Washington’s extra $15 million is a drop in the bucket for the well-funded opposition, but the U.S. support is as clear a signal as any of its desired outcome.  With both the United States and important segments of the opposition appearing to aim for nothing short of regime change, UNASUR is wise to step aside and see if anyone decides to get serious about ending the crisis.  Should the situation on the ground deteriorate further, however, UNASUR will probably ramp up its engagement and press both sides to make concessions in exchange for regional support.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike McCarthy

     /  May 27, 2014

    Fulton, I like this post, but think it makes UNASUR seem realer than it may actually be institutionally speaking. I think their hearts and statements have been in the right place (see the recent statement from the meeting in galapogos, which apparently hits out at maduro government by stressing importance of interamerican human rights systems) but it is also important to call attention to difference between a regional alliance and a multilateral body and note the implications. I learned on my trip to Caracas this past week that the efforts of the three cancilleres is really first and foremost about them–for example, only the Brazilian frames the objectives in terms of UNASUR’s goals. happy to discuss more at some point. Do you have an overall position on sanctions apart from their application in this case?

    Reply
  2. Luis Gomez Calcaño

     /  May 27, 2014

    Thanks for your analysis on Venezuela, which tries to be even-handed and considers important issues. I think, however, that the piece tilts toward a pro-government or anti-opposition stand, surely due to the unintentional overlooking of certain facts. I cite some paragraphs of the original text to contextualize my comments.

    “UNASUR has shown energy and flexibility as a facilitator during the Venezuela crisis, but neither the government, nor its opponents, nor the opposition’s allies in Washington have matched it – prolonging the vicious cycle that’s been plaguing the country for years.”

    Comment: You mention four actors: UNASUR, the government, the opposition and Washington, but omit referring to the Cuban government. Do you really not believe that Cuba is a key actor in Venezuela’s situation? Yes, the opposition has allies in Washington, but the government has a powerful and influential ally in Havana.

    “The government, opposition and Washington have not heeded the appeal by UNASUR and the Vatican’s nuncio to be constructive and patient.”

    Comment: Again, if you mention Washington you should also mention Havana. You’re not that naive, are you? As for being “constructive and patient” a case can easily be made that the opposition, especially the MUD, has been perhaps overly patient.

    “The government’s attack on opposition and student camps in early May and subsequent arrest of more than 200 protestors highlighted the authoritarian tendencies that have given momentum to the demonstrations.”

    Oh, just “authoritarian tendencies”, with no mention of repeated and serious violations of human rights, documented by Venezuelan respected NGOs and by Human Rights Watch, among others.

    “The Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD), representing important sectors of the opposition, gave the foreign ministers yet another list of demands – …”

    Saying that the MUD gave “yet another list of demands” implies that somehow previous demands have been met or at least considered. You know very well that none of the initial MUD demands have been met. Thus, by qualifying those demands as “yet another list” you give the impression that the MUD has been inflexible and unwilling to compromise, which you know is not true.

    “Demands that Maduro negotiate with a foreign-funded opposition that has as its clear goal his removal as constitutionally legitimate president – something no head of state in the hemisphere would accept – naturally keep his bases on edge.”

    Comment: Characterizing the opposition as “foreign-funded” is clearly a delegitimizing strategy. There are many cases where local political forces have been “foreign-funded”; many revolutionary movements around the world (like the Castro guerrillas in Cuba, the sandinista revolutionaries and many others) have been funded by foreign public and private resources. But qualifying the opposition as “foreign-funded” is so general an accusation that it implies that all of the opposition, or most of it, is foreign-funded. You know, or at least you should know, that this is not true. US government sources themselves show that funding has gone to a few NGOs, and not to opposition parties. Moreover, you should also know that local funding for the opposition parties has become extremely difficult because of the intimidation that business suffer from the government, and characterizing it as “well funded” is misleading.

    The fact that the opposition “has as its clear goal his removal as constitutionally legitimate president” is not illegitimate unless such removal be made by inconstitutional means, and cannot be characterized as “plotting”. The US Congress has removed a president and tried to remove another by constitutional means, and those heads of state accepted the legitimacy of the procedure. Do you really mean that Maduro should not accept negotiating at all? The great majority of the opposition leaders, especially those of the MUD and even the so-called “radicals” have repeatedly stressed that an eventual removal of the president should be attained only by constitutional means. There are, of course, fringe sectors that may be calling for other means, but it is an undue generalization to characterize the whole of the opposition this way.

    “… Washington’s extra $15 million is a drop in the bucket for the well-funded opposition, but the U.S. support is as clear a signal as any of its desired outcome. With both the United States and important segments of the opposition appearing to aim for nothing short of regime change, UNASUR is wise to step aside and see if anyone decides to get serious about ending the crisis.”

    Comment: Once again, you characterize the conflict as being between the opposition and Washington on one side, and the Venezuelan government on the other one, with UNASUR standing as a neutral observer and facilitator. This ignores that the government has powerful international allies who also have a “desired outcome”, starting with Cuba but also including Russia, China, Iran, Syria and, in Latin America, Brazil and Argentine. If it is legitimate to point to and criticize US involvement, shouldn’t these other countries’ interests and overt or covert actions at least be considered?

    Reply

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