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.
Recently, a rogue faction of the police apparently dropped grenades from a helicopter onto the Supreme Court in Caracas in what President Nicolas Maduro called a “coup plot”. That same day, the president had threatened to take up arms “if the revolution were to be destroyed”.
We cannot simply wait for the resolution of this drama as if it were a television series. In spite of the Organisation 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, 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 programmes of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of five future Latin American nations. And the same was true of his contemporary Andres Bello, perhaps the greatest republican thinker of 19th-century Latin America.
Fast forward to 1998, the Venezuelan people, tired of a two-party regime stained by corruption and social inequalities, voted Hugo Chavez into power. Much more than a populist, he was a redeemer skilled at and addicted to the intense use of the media.
The death of Chavez 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 per cent of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty. The estimated inflation rate for 2017 is 720 per cent, 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.
Nothing can be expected from countries like China, Russia or those Latin American and Caribbean countries still benefiting, albeit precariously, from Venezuelan subsidies in oil — it were these countries that blocked the recent attempt at condemnation of the regime. In solidarity with the courageous Venezuelan people, perhaps Europe and the major countries of Latin America could support a quarantine — diplomatic, financial, commercial and political — of the regime of Maduro. They might persuade the first Latin American pope, Pope Francis, to take a stronger stand and together pressure Raul 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.
— New York Times News Service
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.