Five months of violent antigovernment demonstrations in Venezuela have dissipated and the epicenter in Caracas, Plaza Altamira, sits eerily quiet. The barricades that opponents once set up to slow government armored vehicles are gone. Rumors of a military uprising are gone. And life has returned to normal, with people struggling to find enough to eat in a country stricken by shortages, The Wall Street Journal reports:
Despite an 80% disapproval rating, [President Nicolas] Maduro seemingly faces few short-term challenges to his rule just a month after he drew international condemnation by installing his allies into a new rubber-stamp assembly. The government’s crackdown on protesters—including widespread arrests and torture, human-rights groups and victims say—has broken the once-potent protest movement. The protests claimed more than 125 lives and nearly 2,000 wounded, including scores with permanent injuries. Some of the government’s leading political adversaries have fled the country and left the opposition coalition in disarray.
“In the short term I think it’s paid off because they have effectively gained control over the whole government,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at Tulane University. Longer term, he added, it remained to be seen whether the moves to maintain control will suffice.
Venezuela’s predicament went from bad to worse last week, with the US unveiling financial sanctions and a legal setback in its battle with creditors. For now, the country will shrug off the setbacks, but in the longer run they augur potentially the messiest debt restructuring in history, The FT reports.
“It’s already messy socially and economically. But when Venezuela has to restructure it’s going to be a train wreck,” says Mark Weidemaier, a law professor at the University of North Carolina.
Venezuelan democracy is “barely alive, if still alive,” according to UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The government’s recent actions “support the feeling that what is left of democratic life in Venezuela is being squeezed”. Asked about French President Emmanuel Macron’s accusation Tuesday that Maduro was creating a “dictatorship”, Zeid was quoted by AFP as saying that there had been “an erosion of democratic life”.
With a robust series of sanctions aimed at the profiteers of misery, the U.S. is banning trade in new bonds issued by the Venezuelan government and by PDVSA. There will also be limitations on dividend payments for the Venezuelan government, notes Heritage analyst Ana Quintana, a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. Rather than a full economic or oil embargo, this strategy brilliantly protects the Venezuelan people from further economic hardship while penalizing corrupt government officials and peeling away Maduro’s loyalists and enablers, she adds.
Venezuela’s new constituent assembly has unanimously voted to put opposition leaders on trial for treason, the BBC reports. The assembly said it would pursue those it accuses of supporting US economic sanctions against the country.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report on Wednesday highlighting the human rights violations abuses that have been committed in Venezuela amid this year’s anti-government protests. Since the beginning of April, the Attorney General has reportedly initiated at least 1,958 investigations into reported injuries occurring during protests, with such injuries increasing in severity as months have passed. More than 5,000 protestors have been detained since April, with 1,000 people still detained as of the end of July.
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been pressed by many MPs on his own side to condemn the killings by security forces of those protesting against political repression in Venezuela, The FT’s Philip Stephens writes:
A long-time cheerleader for Hugo Chávez (he calls the late president “an inspiration”), he refuses to criticise president Nicolás Maduro for sidelining parliament and locking up political opponents. All sides, Mr Corbyn says, should show restraint. “All sides” is the favourite phrase that allows the Labour leader to strike a pose as a pacifist. …. The organising ideology here is not pacifism but anti-Americanism — a worldview that says that everything bad that happens can be traced back to US “imperialism”.
The situation for media professionals in Venezuela has become increasingly dangerous. But according to journalist Gustavo Hernandez, social media and the country’s hunger for information is keeping the news media alive.
“The thought that populists in power are bound to fail may be comforting, but it’s an illusion,” says Jan-Werner Mueller, a professor of politics at Princeton University. “Populist governments have no problem blaming all of their failures on the elites,” he tells Haaretz; read more:
Populist leaders continue to behave like victims even after they win. Hugo Chavez would always point to the dark machinations of the opposition. Erdogan continued to present himself as the street fighter from Istanbul’s tough neighborhood who confronts the establishment, long after he had started concentrating all political, economic and cultural power in his hands. When populists are in power, they continue to increase polarization among the public – there is never a dearth of enemies.
- First, the U.S. must sanction top Maduro officials like Delcy Rodriguez. These kleptocrats are the true traitors, and must be reminded that they will eventually face consequences for their choices. They must know that whenever Venezuela’s national nightmare ends and a democratic government eventually takes hold, the U.S. will help that government hold Venezuela’s enemies to account.
- The U.S. must also prepare tougher sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector. In the end, cutting those funding flows is the only way to exert the kind of pressure necessary to separate the regime from the Venezuelan armed forces. If the regime cannot pay its already poorly paid soldiers, those young men are unlikely to keep attacking their fellow citizens on the streets. The history of successful revolutions proves that the loyalty of security forces is the key pivot on which a regime survives or falls.
Authorities have shut down two radio stations that aired critical coverage of Maduro’s government by refusing to renew their licenses. Enza Carbone, president of the country’s Radio Chamber, said late Friday in a statement that the National Telecommunications Commission did not renew the stations’ permits when they expired and ordered them to cease transmitting. The National Media Workers’ Union accused the government of taking “arbitrary” action and violating freedom of expression. Read more