Venezuela: Maduro’s dialog an ‘exercise in cynicism and manipulation’?

VZlacoaA coalition of Venezuelan opposition parties says it is willing to enter into talks with the government as long as certain conditions are met, the BBC reports:

The meeting was proposed by foreign ministers of the Unasur regional group to put an end to two months of anti-government protests. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had earlier agreed to take part. It is not yet clear though whether his government will agree to the terms demanded by the opposition.

In a letter addressed to the Unasur delegation, the umbrella opposition group Table for Democratic Unity (MUD) said it was “willing to hold a true dialogue, with a clear agenda, equal conditions [for both sides] and the first meeting of which will be transmitted live on national radio and television channels”.

But some opposition figures said talks must be televised, mediated by a third party and have a set agenda after Maduro offered to meet his opponents today “without previous conditions or agenda.”

“To begin the dialogue there needs to be a clear gesture from the government,” Popular Will’s representative at the Unasur meeting, Luis Florido, said in a post on his Twitter account made after Maduro’s statement. Authorities “must free Leopoldo Lopez and the political prisoners. That’s our stance.”

But as the international community continues to tip-toe toward engagement, Venezuela is currently more polarized than at any time in its recent history, says a leading analyst.

The divide between the regime and the opposition is deeper than ever, Juan Nagel writes for Democracy Lab’s Transitions:

The opposition believes democracy has been severely degraded during the chavista era, and many are now openly calling Maduro a dictator. While the government is proud of its high-tech electoral system, the opposition thinks it is grossly unfair: Numerous irregularities are routinely reported, but they are seldom investigated. ….A recent opinion poll by local pollster IVAD suggests that a majority of Venezuelans (55 percent) share the opposition’s view on democracy in the country. The government claims to believe that the right to protest is legitimate, but the opposition, currently undersiege in the streets of Venezuela’s main cities, strongly disputes that.

Judging by recent electoral outcomes, the two sides in this struggle are of roughly equal size. But their outlooks are so radically different that it sometimes seems as if they live in different countries altogether, writes Nagel, the editor of Caracas Chronicles, and author of Blogging the Revolution.

“As the international community tries to separate truth from fiction and play a constructive role in trying to foster dialogue, they would be well served in keeping their expectations low,” he notes. RTWT

Maduro could have used his recent New York Times op-ed to apologize for the murders of demonstrators and bystanders by the Venezuelan armed forces or by the “colectivos,” the illegal, armed groups that are funded and encouraged by his government, says Reynaldo Trombetta, the leader of the campaign:

He also could have apologized for the dozens of protesters who were shot and the hundreds more who were assaulted or tortured. Instead, he chose to launch fresh rhetorical attacks on his countrymen despite their legitimate protests against the terrible economic conditions in their country. It is indisputable that the forces under Mr. Maduro’s control are responsible for human rights violations. So his call for peace is nothing more than an embarrassing exercise in cynicism and manipulation.

Pro-regime colectivos ‘wreak havoc’ on Venezuela protests

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has done nothing to publicly discourage the violence by armed pro-government militants, loosely known as “colectivos,” which are also blamed for scores more cases of beatings and intimidation in multiple cities, AP reports:

In fact, since the protests began, Maduro and his vice president have each welcomed pro-government “motorizados,” or motorcyclists, to separate events at the presidential palace — a Feb. 24 rally and a “peace conference” on March 13. At the latter gathering, Vice President Jorge Arreaza told his guests, “If there has been exemplary behavior it has been the behavior of the motorcycle colectivos that are with the Bolivarian revolution.” He claimed the CIA was behind a propaganda campaign to discredit the colectivos.

Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas for the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, said such colectivo violence is nationwide.

“This is just one example of a practice we’ve seen across several states, of security forces not only tolerating armed groups of civilians who attack peaceful protesters, but even collaborating with these gangs when they commit beatings, arbitrary arrests and other abuses,” Wilkinson said. RTWT

A delegation from the UNASUR group — promoted by Venezuela as an alternative to the OAS — subsequently visited Caracas and won a commitment from President Nicolás Maduro to accept a “good-faith witness,” possibly from the Vatican, to mediate talks with the opposition, The Washington Post reports:

But there’s not much reason to believe that Mr. Maduro — who refers to opposition leaders as “Chucky,” in a bizarre reference to the horror movie — is ready to compromise, or that the UNASUR group will pressure him to do so.

The problem with this fecklessness is that Venezuela desperately needs outside help. With one of the world’s highest inflation rates and one of its highest murder rates, severe shortages of basic goods, chronic power outages and now daily street confrontations, the country is in danger of collapse. Its polarized political leaders, with no elections in sight, are attempting to destroy each other rather than to compete within the rule of law — much less to negotiate.


Venezuela protests ‘may invigorate flaccid dictatorship’


Credit: COA

Credit: COA


“After nearly a month of anti-government protests and street clashes, the one figure who may be capable of guiding Venezuela out of its crisis is a bearded, disheveled 24-year-old who lives with his parents,” Nick Miroff writes for The Washington Post:

Juan Requesens, a student leader, has leapt in recent weeks from campus politics to the swirling center of Venezuela’s worst unrest in a decade. A talent for public speaking has driven his rise, but perhaps just as appealing: He is not one of the well-established opposition politicians Venezuelans already know.

“A strategy of escalating confrontation will just give the government the chance to discredit us, and continue with more repression,” he told Miroff:

He and the other student leaders around him also fear that provocateurs may try to infiltrate their marches to spark violence and scare away the ordinary Venezuelans they need to join them.

In tone and strategy, Requesens is aligned with opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential election to Chavez in November 2012 and was narrowly defeated by Maduro in last April’s special election following Chavez’s death. They are the moderate branch of the anti-government opposition, in contrast to the more hardline wing led by congresswoman Maria Corina Machado and former Caracas municipal mayor Leopoldo Lopez, who has been jailed at a military prison since the government arrested him February 18, accusing him of inciting violence.

Requesens and his allies see Lopez and Machado’s call for Maduro to resign or be removed as a dead end.

vzlademo“Yet the riots do not portend a Venezuelan Spring,” says one observer. “For the government they are a welcome deflection of public attention from a faltering economy and rising crime. They may even invigorate this flaccid dictatorship,” author and journalist Rafael Osío Cabrices writes for The New York Times:

Beyond the students who started the protests, there are two main strands within the opposition. One is a group of hard-liners led by María Corina Machado, a congresswoman from an opposition stronghold in Caracas, and Leopoldo López, a former mayor of the anti-Chavista neighborhood of Chacao. They want the government to fall; their crowd is active in the streets and spews insults on Twitter at Chavistas and moderate anti-Chavistas alike. (Mr. López has been in military custody since Feb. 18 on charges of inciting violence.) Another opposition force is trying to keep alive the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable), an umbrella group of anti-Chávez parties that believes in institutional politics.

“There is no group backing Venezuela’s protesters like the Muslim Brotherhood, with a platform, a network and the logistics to overthrow the current government,” Cabrices argues:

Despite what the Chavistas in power claim, repeating the tired leftist line about American meddling, these rallies and riots are not a conspiracy to topple an elected government. The hard-liners in the opposition who want regime change cannot drive Mr. Maduro from office, much less replace the sprawling Chavista establishment. The military remains firmly aligned with Mr. Chávez’s heirs.

Another prominent analyst agrees that more militant elements of the opposition are playing into the hands of the regime and helping to widen rifts in opposition ranks.

“For the communicational hegemon, it’s easy to disappear the large, day-time protests and paint the entire movement as the outcome of a tiny, violent guarimbero clique,” says Francisco Toro,  a Venezuelan journalist and co-author of Blogging the Revolution: Caracas Chronicles and the Hugo Chávez Era.

The cabin fever of the guarimba has given the protest movement a blinkered, inward looking, tribal flavor that guarantees its failure. The radical fringe that runs it is entirely indifferent to the need to reach out to the politically unaffiliated people the opposition needs to win over to really challenge the government. …

With its image increasingly defined by its least appealing members, it’s little surprise that the protest movement has failed to build meaningful alliances outside the opposition base. People in working class neighborhoods, whether urbanizaciones populares or barrios, see the protest movement as something alien, different, not about them, not by people like them and certainly not for people like them.

What’s next for Venezuela?

As protests continue in Venezuela, the country’s economy remains stagnant with inflation above 50 percent and companies struggle with increased regulation and currency controls. Join a group of experts as they discuss the prospects for the country’s economy and its oil sector amid political unrest.


Javier Corrales, Professor of Political Science, Amherst College

Alejandro Grisanti, Head of Research and Strategy for Latin America, Barclays Capital Inc.

Luisa Palacios, Head of Latin America Macro and Energy Research, Medley Global Advisors

Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy; Editor-in-Chief, Americas Quarterly; Americas Society/Council of the Americas (Moderator)

Registration Fee: This event is complimentary for all registrants. Prior registration is required. Registration is NOT required to view the webcast.

Event Information: Guillermo Zubilllaga | | 1-212-277-8362