Thursday, June 1, 2017

The OAS Has Contributed to Venezuelan Polarization and Undermined the Call for National Dialogue

Foreign actors such as the Organization of American States need to play a neutral role in Venezuela if they are to contribute to the process of reestablishing stability and avoiding civil war or anarchy. The two sides in the conflict are in a deadlock and at this point neither one is poised to emerge victorious, at least in the near future. Polarization has reached new heights.

Furthermore, neither side has an air-tight justification for its positions and actions. Indeed, the problems the nation is facing defy easy solutions. While the government of Nicolás Maduro has committed its share of errors, the opposition has also assumed positions that do not reflect popular sentiment, which is in favor of national reconciliation and a focus on concrete economic solutions rather than political confrontation.

The Maduro government’s case cannot be dismissed as lacking substance, as if it were an authoritarian regime. The bellicose behavior of opposition street brigades including the destruction of public property and the killing and wounding of numerous security forces –over the last two months as well as during a four months period in 2014 – would be labeled terrorism in the U.S. and elsewhere. Protesters have also systematically blocked traffic in major street arteries, often by starting fires from sidewalk to sidewalk. Furthermore, Maduro has called for open discussions with no strings attached, a proposition that the opposition turned down both in 2014 and 2017. On the other hand, the government provoked the opposition this year by forbidding the electoral participation of governor and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles for 15 years on allegations of corruption. It also rescheduled state-wide elections, which were slated for December 2016, by one year. While the dozens of deaths related to the protests have occurred under disputed circumstances, the excesses on the part of security forces both in 2014 and this year have been widely recognized, even by the government itself.

This is just the beginning of a list of pros and cons with regard to the government’s democratic commitment, as well as that of the opposition. The point is that the good guy- bad guy narrative is simplistic and does not stand up to the facts.

In spite of the nebulousness and complexity, important international actors such as the OAS as well as the U.S. mainstream media have failed to achieve even a modest degree of impartiality. Specifically, OAS secretary general Luis Almagro has failed to place himself above Venezuela’s internal politics and to facilitate a peaceful and constructive resolution of the conflict. Instead, his statements without exception have been unequivocally in line with the opposition’s narrative and demands.

Almagro’s openly hostile position toward the Maduro government inadvertently strengthens the hard-line position in the Chavista movement and the opposition, both of which are resistant to dialogue. His intromission and discourse that questions the Venezuelan government’s democratic credentials serve to embolden the radicals in the opposition and further polarize the nation. Almagro conflates pressing economic problems and the alleged authoritarianism of the Maduro government. This line strengthens the hand of the opposition hard liners who dismiss all actions (including regional elections) that do not contribute to immediate regime change. In contrast, the moderates within the opposition – although at this point they have no visible national leader – favor emphasizing economic issues in order to reach out to the popular sectors of the population who are most affected by the economic calamity, attract some of the disenchanted Chavistas, and at the same time accept dialogue with government representatives. The moderates therefore place an accent mark on economic issues more than political ones.

In short, the OAS should assume a balanced position by criticizing both sides for their intransigence and specific actions that contribute to confrontation. Along these lines, the organization should call on the government and the opposition to negotiate in earnest. At the same time, it should name a nonpartisan committee to investigate disputed events.

Steve Ellner


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