On 6/28/2017 4:24 PM, jat wrote: part of the story as usual
Stop Totalitarianism in Venezuela
By ENRIQUE KRAUZEJUNE 28, 2017
MADRID — It has been the destiny of Venezuela to bounce between the
extremes of oppression and freedom. The crisis now convulsing the
country follows this historical pattern. Every day, Venezuelans of all
stripes pour into the streets protesting the loss of their freedom and
their constitutional rights by a tyrannical regime that condemns them to
scarcity, illness, malnutrition and outright hunger. Social media has
given us a wealth of shocking images: the National Guard firing
indiscriminately into crowds, killings, tanks moving against
demonstrators. A daily Tiananmen while President Nicolás Maduro dances
However, Chavista power in Venezuela is continuing its decline from its
glory days with Hugo Chávez. On Tuesday, a rogue faction of police
apparently dropped grenades from a helicopter onto the Supreme Court in
Caracas in what Mr. Maduro called a "coup plot."
We cannot simply wait for the resolution of this drama as if it were a
television series. In spite of the Organization of American States'
failure to reach an agreement to condemn the Maduro administration's
atrocities, Venezuela needs a rapid solution. And we cannot abandon the
Venezuelan people in their fight for economic rescue and political freedom.
This struggle has gone on for 200 years. In its war of independence —
the longest such war on the continent — Venezuelans killed one another
with unbelievable savagery, including women, and children and the
elderly. A quarter of the population died as well as almost all its
considerable wealth of cattle. But also extreme, in ambition and
intensity, were the activities and programs of Simón Bolívar, the
liberator of five future Latin American nations. And the same was true
of his contemporary Andrés Bello, perhaps the greatest republican
thinker of 19th-century Latin America.
Venezuela suffered through long periods of dictatorship and achieved
constitutional order only in 1959, at the hands of another extraordinary
figure, Rómulo Betancourt, the first Latin American convert from
communism to democracy. Unfortunately, democracy confronted an
expiration date. In 1998, the Venezuelan people, tired of a two-party
regime stained by corruption and social inequalities, voted Hugo Chávez
into power. Much more than a populist, he was a redeemer skilled at and
addicted to the intense use of media.
I was present for that penultimate cycle of this longstanding but now
intensified tension. I traveled to Venezuela at various times and spoke
to numerous Chavistas, from important government functionaries to social
leaders, and was impressed by the spontaneous testimony, in poor
neighborhoods, by Venezuelans approving the man who, they would say,
"took them into account for the first time." I felt that Mr. Chávez's
social commitment was genuine but that putting it into practice did not
require the installation of a dictatorship. In 2008, the minister of
finance, Alí Rodríguez Araque, disagreed with me. "We're constructing a
communal state," he said, "which the Soviets, the Chinese and the Cubans
have not been able to do."
"On what do you base your optimism?" I asked.
"On the price of oil. It's now at $150 per barrel and it will go up to
"And if the price falls, as in 1982 Mexico, and bankrupts the country?"
"I'm sure it will get to $250," he answered.
(At present it stands at about $45 per barrel.)
I also spoke with anti-Chavistas from various walks of life. The
dismantling of Petróleos de Venezuela, the highly productive oil
corporation nationalized in 1975, and its astounding present level of
corruption alarmed them. But their principal concern was the destruction
of democracy: the confiscation of the major private television
broadcaster, Radio Caracas Televisión, and Mr. Chávez's growing personal
domination over the government branches and electoral functions. There
was a clear drift toward totalitarianism that Mr. Chávez had
foreshadowed in his first visit to Cuba, when he had expressed his wish
to be "el todo" — "the embodiment of everything" — as Fidel Castro had
become in Cuba.
The death of Mr. Chávez was followed by the anointment (in a monarchical
style) of his successor. But nothing prepared Venezuelans for the
disaster that followed. There has been terrible economic and social
destruction. Across 15 years, a trillion dollars' worth of oil income
has been squandered and 80 percent of Venezuelans have fallen into
poverty. The estimated inflation rate for 2017 is 720 percent, according
to the International Monetary Fund.
Venezuela has become the Zimbabwe of the Americas, a shameless alliance
of corrupt politicians and the military acquiescent to the dictates of
Cuba. Some of these leaders are accused of involvement in international
drug trafficking. They have kidnapped the Latin American nation that is
richest in oil resources, which they wish to appropriate for themselves,
permanently and at whatever human cost it may require.
The killings by Mr. Maduro's government are not yet comparable to the
genocidal dictatorships of Chile and Argentina in the 1970s. Nor is the
government a carbon copy of the Castro regime, which ended, with one
stroke, all autonomous freedoms and institutions and is the
longest-lasting dictatorship in modern history.
But the pressure toward totalitarianism by the Maduro government has
been met by heroic resistance, recalling the Solidarity movement in
Poland and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia but with much greater
spilling of blood.
It is impossible to know how all this will end. But there is a potential
answer, one that Rómulo Betancourt formulated in 1959 and that has been
reaffirmed by the O.A.S. secretary, Luis Almagro, whose valiant
leadership has restored the dignity and initiative of the organization.
It is recognized in international law as the Betancourt Doctrine:
"Regimes that do not respect human rights and violate the freedoms of
their citizens," it says, "should be submitted to a rigorous quarantine
and eradicated through the collective action of the international
Nothing can be expected from dictatorial regimes like China or Russia or
those Latin American and Caribbean countries still benefiting, albeit
precariously, from Venezuelan subsidies in oil — it was these countries
that blocked the recent attempt at condemnation of the regime by the
O.A.S. Perhaps President Barack Obama might have had some effect on the
Cuban government, but it would be best if the Trump administration, with
its lack of moral legitimacy, does not intervene.
And yet, in solidarity with the courageous Venezuelan people, Europe and
the major countries of Latin America could support a quarantine —
diplomatic, financial, commercial and political — of the outlaw regime
of Mr. Maduro. They might persuade the first Latin American pope to take
a stronger stand and together pressure Raúl Castro to accept a
democratic solution: a halt to the repression, immediate elections, the
re-establishment of civil liberties, respect for democratic institutions
and the release of political prisoners.
Enrique Krauze is a historian, the editor of the literary magazine
Letras Libres and the author of "Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin
America." This essay was translated by Hank Heifetz from the Spanish.
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 29, 2017, on Page A12
of the National edition with the headline: Stop totalitarianism in
Venezuela. Today's Paper