UNASUR ‘must condemn Venezuela abuses’ – How to beat Maduro?


venezuela-bandera111The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) should condemn the grave human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan government against political opponents and protesters, and Venezuela should release people arbitrarily detained and bring to justice those responsible for abuses committed against protesters, Human Rights Watch said today:

On February 20, 2015, the UNASUR secretary general, Ernesto Samper, announced that the foreign affairs ministers of Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador would travel to Venezuela in the coming days to “open channels of dialogue and understanding” in the country. UNASUR and its member states – with the exception of Colombia and Chile – have failed to voice concern regarding the detention of political opponents and the widespread abuses committed against protesters and bystanders during demonstrations in Venezuela over the past year….

On February 24, UNASUR “lamented” the death of Kluibert Ferney Roa, a 14-year-old student who, witnesses told the media, had been killed that day by a member of the Bolivarian National Police during a demonstration about the scarcity of food and medicine … While some protesters engaged in violence at some of the 2014 protests, Human Rights Watch research shows that the security forces repeatedly used unlawful force against unarmed protesters and bystanders. 

venezuela0514_reportcover“If UNASUR wants to promote a genuine dialogue, it should first press the Venezuelan government to stop locking up the people it needs to be talking with,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas executive director at Human Rights Watch. “The regional body should call for the immediate release of all the government opponents who have been arbitrarily detained, and justice for the widespread abuses that have been committed against protesters over the past year.”

Two recent surveys show that seven to eight of every 10 Venezuelans believe that President Nicolas Maduro is doing a lousy job, and more than 85 percent say the country is in bad shape. Maduro’s personal approval rating has fallen to just 22 percent, Bloomberg reports:

A poll in January found that although some 40 percent of Venezuelans sympathized with the opposition message, [yet] only 19 percent backed the flagship opposition bloc, the United Democratic Roundtable. “No discourse, no message and no proposals,” is how pollster Oscar Schemel, president of Hinterlaces, described the anti-Chavista predicament in a televised interview.

Official election rigging hasn’t helped. In 2010, the opposition candidates won 52 percent of the vote, but thanks to gerrymandering ended up with just 41 percent of legislative seats. Then there’s the political guillotine. The latest victim was Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, a fiery critic of the Bolivarian regime, arrested by Maduro’s intelligence police on Feb. 19, on sedition charges.

A government that has run out of money will find it more difficult than it has in the past to contain popular unrest. Mr. Ledezma has appealed to Venezuelans from prison to “continue the struggle in the streets,” and the increasing economic desperation raises the odds of a bloody confrontation, The Wall Street Journal adds.

Venezuela not socialist, but a Petrostate

And yet the opposition’s bigger problem may be existential, Bloomberg adds:

Foes of the Bolivarian regime have eloquently decried human rights violationsmedia censorship and the blackout in civil rights that has struck a chord with groups such as Human Rights Watch, and drawn slaps from global heavyweights, such as former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The message is less resonant among Venezuelans, eight in 10 of whom believe crime and economic disarray trump politics. For all its stirring jeremiads, the opposition has failed to offer a credible alternative. That may be because deep down they share some of Chavismo’s basic illusions.

“Venezuela is not a socialist state,” said New York University historian Alejandro Velasco. “It’s a Petrostate, which means that the conversation is not over how to make a stronger democracy but all about distribution of rents and who controls the national wealth,” he said. “That makes dictatorship and democracy two sides of the same coin.”

Podemos-Venezuela ideological, financial links cause concern

Podemos juancarlosmonedero-300x168The recent electoral success of leftwing populist parties such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain has also brought to light the parties’ disturbing links with, respectively, hard-line Russian nationalists and Venezuela’s authoritarian populists.

While it is widely known that the parties share similar ideological antecedents, reports that Spain’s radical populist “Podemos” (We Can) Party has developed close ideological and financial links with Venezuela’s increasingly authoritarian government are prompting concern.

Decisions over Podemos party strategy and rhetoric are usually taken by a tightly knit team of five people, the FT’s Tobia Buck writes:

Aside from Carolina Bescansa and Pablo Iglesias, the telegenic leader, the key decision makers include Íñigo Errejón, a baby-faced but sharp-minded political scientist tasked with building up the organisational muscle of Podemos; Juan Carlos Monedero, the party’s chief ideologue (above); and Luis Alegre, who heads the party’s Madrid branch…..

Another common theme is Latin America: Mr Monedero, in particular, has developed close relations with Venezuela and other leftist governments in the region. The leadership is driven by a fierce determination to overcome the sectarianism and infighting that has so often blighted the left in Spain.

“They have learnt that the great adversary of the left is fragmentation. So they believe they have to quash dissent from the very beginning,” says José Ignacio Torreblanca, a political analyst.

Podemos has been likened not only to Greece’s Syriza, but also to the far-left, populist movements that have erupted across Latin America, especially the “Bolivarian Revolution” of the late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, notes Omar G. Encarnación, Professor of Political Studies at Bard College and author of Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting.

The comparison is not baseless, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

Juan Carlos Monedero, Podemos’ second in command, served as advisor to Chávez from 2005–10. Podemos’ mobilization and organizational strategies also borrow from Chávez’s playbook, including the extensive use of new media. Similar to Chávez’s show Aló Presidente, Iglesias has his own Internet talk show, La Tuerka (The Screw), which he uses for attacking la casta (the caste), a byword for the two-party system that has dominated Spanish politics since the post-Franco transition. Podemos’ followers are organized around a network of grassroots groups called Círculos Podemos, which echo Chávez’s own Círculos Bolivarianos.

According to some accounts, Venezuela has been exporting its dysfunctional populism via a paper trail that shows the regime is helping to bankroll Podemos.

Cofounder of Podemos,  Monedero, billed a total of €425,150 (US$487,200) to the governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Ecuador for consulting services, according to information revealed by El Plural on January 19. Monedero admitted that much of his profits went to fund pro-Podemos media initiatives.