Dialog can’t avert ‘final blow to Venezuela’s democracy’


vzla chavez maduroVenezuela has freed three opposition activists jailed for more than a month in a first gesture by President Nicolas Maduro’s government after talks began with his foes, Reuters reports:

The socialist leader met opposition leaders at the weekend in talks convened by the Vatican, but they conditioned further dialogue on the release of political prisoners and a national vote on Maduro’s rule. His adversaries accuse Maduro of creating a dictatorship by leaning on compliant institutions to block a recall referendum on his rule and sideline the opposition-led legislature.

Authorities freed the three activists – Carlos Melo, Andres Moreno and Marco Trejo – on Monday night, but the opposition says another 100 or so Maduro opponents remain in jail.

It is past time for world leaders to forcefully raise their voices to stand by the Venezuelan people, and hold the government accountable for its authoritarian and abusive practices, argues José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch:

On November 1, with Venezuela facing a dire political, economic, and social crisis, the UN Human Rights Council will meet to review the country’s deplorable human rights record. This is an ideal opportunity to put pressure on a government that has so miserably failed its people.

chris-sabatini-r1-1-150x150Venezuela’s political system has been described as a participatory democracy, an illiberal democracy, and a competitive authoritarian state. Today, none of those labels hold, says Christopher Sabatini (right), a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. By repeatedly violating the constitution and denying citizens the right to express themselves electorally, the Maduro government has shown that it has become a full-on dictatorship, he writes for Foreign Affairs.

Analysts warn that the government may just be trying to buy more time while the opposition risks further internal divisions, AFP reports:

“We have very little time to generate trust in the dialogue. The magnitude of the crisis is far-reaching,” said political scientist and sociologist Francisco Coello. “The desperation in the street is very high,” he said, referring to the country’s deep economic crisis.

A recent poll found that more than 75 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of their deeply unpopular president, Chavez’s handpicked successor. But another analyst, Luis Vicente Leon, said that, if the opposition was not sure it could mobilize people massively into the street, its best bet was to negotiate, “putting its hypothetical force on the table before showing it didn’t have it empirically.”

‘Devastating Political Effect’

U.S. federal prosecutors are preparing to charge several individuals and confiscate their property over the alleged looting of Venezuela’s state oil company in what may amount to one of the biggest asset seizures in U.S. history, Bloomberg reports.

vzla-pdvsa-300x200“If the U.S. were to say, ‘We’ve identified billions of dollars,’ it would have a devastating political effect at home with Venezuela’s current government,” said Ricardo Hausmann, a Venezuelan economist at Harvard:

Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College [a regular contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy] said that in dealing with Venezuela the U.S. has made a point of sanctioning individuals rather than the government as a whole. Some within law enforcement have nonetheless alleged that the Obama administration is dragging its feet in pursuing Venezuelan officials because of its desire to avoid a political and economic implosion there and to help negotiate a soft landing from the current crisis.

Venezuela’s neighbors need to do more, writes Sabatini, Executive Director of Global Americans:

  • The first step should be to call for another discussion and even vote on the democratic situation in Venezuela at the OAS. By invoking the OAS’ 2001 Democratic Charter, the organization’s members would collectively call out the brazen violations of democratic and human rights in Venezuela and give license to individual members to voluntarily impose sanctions on the government. Although such a vote would surely encourage the Maduro government to denounce it as a foreign intervention, it would likely initiate the first serious talks between the PSUV and the opposition.
  • The second should be to follow the lead of the United States and selectively deny visas to Venezuelan officials tied to human rights abuses and corruption. That would send a strong, regional signal that public officials who have taken part in human rights violations would not be able to travel to select countries and could have their assets frozen—a sign that Venezuela’s neighbors will not tolerate official impunity and an incentive for PSUV officials to consider options beyond clinging to a sinking government.
  • The third should be to drop the farcical belief that UNASUR or the Vatican can convene a serious mediation effort without the will or power to either recognize the Maduro government’s responsibility to protect its citizens and respect human rights or sanction his government’s noncompliance. For too long, Venezuelan opposition leaders have had their constitutional rights trampled on, despite the exhortations of the international community. Future talks need to begin with accountability for the government’s violations of human and democratic rights.
  • For its part, the international community needs to reinforce its commitment to a democratic recall referendum, which so far it has been willing to promote but not to enforce. It is time for neighboring countries, the OAS, Canada, the United States, and even UNASUR to demand accountability for the Venezuelan government’s refusal to abide by their repeated and unanswered calls for greater respect for human rights and a recall referendumRTWT

Human Rights Watch, a thoroughly secular NGO based in New York, has written an open letter to Pope Francis, urging him not to let Mr Maduro wriggle out of his obligation to free prisoners and start respecting the rule of law, The Economist notes:

Any good-faith and meaningful dialogue must be based on an objective assessment of the political, social and economic crisis that the country is facing, and recognise the government’s responsibility…Otherwise it will only serve as yet another excuse for Venezuelan authorities to delay measures that are desperately needed to protect human rights and restore minimum democratic standards in Venezuela. For any dialogue to succeed, it must tackle head-on the Venezuelan government’s authoritarian practices…the government has resorted to the courts, which lack judicial independence, to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute opposition leaders and ordinary Venezuelans who speak about the crisis. Many have been abused while in custody, which in some cases amounts to torture.

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