The socialist strongman has plenty of critics. But he also has a remarkable amount of staying power, in part because of the tacit support he receives from certain fellow presidents.
SANTIAGO — Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile who now heads the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), recently released a new report that, among other things, implicates the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in the suspected executions of at least 38 young people in the period from May 2019 to May 2020.
More generally speaking, the report raises concerns over a pattern of arbitrary detentions, violations of due process and allegations of torture and disappearances. It is also highly critical of the new National Electoral Council, the CNE in Spanish, which the government appointed to oversee parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 6.
And yet, not everyone seems to share the OHCHR"s concerns. Indeed, Bachelet's criticisms sharply contrast with the recent actions of Maduro's three new "allies': presidents Alberto Fernández of Argentina, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico and Donald Trump in the United States.
Citing the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states, Argentina and Mexico abstained in a recent Organization of American States (OAS) vote that censured the Maduro government for illegally appointing CNE members. The Venezuelan Constitution states that they must be named by the legislature (the National Assembly), where the opposition, led by Assembly speaker Juan Guaidó, has a majority. Instead, the Supreme Court — which Maduro controls — made the CNE appointments.
The CNE's first great responsibility is precisely to oversee the next election for the Assembly, Venezuela's single-chamber legislative branch. Its last elections, won by the opposition, took place in late 2015. Guaidó"s democratic legitimacy along with that of his interim government depends entirely on the opposition coalition's parliamentary majority, so these elections are crucial to the country's future.
With their abstention or refusal to condemn the unconstitutional move to appoint regime loyalists to the CNE, Argentina and Mexico are siding with the country's authoritarian ruler. They are helping weaken the democratic, shadow government led by Guaidó, which is weak enough as it is.
The coalition of almost 60 states that backs Guaidó"s shadow government continues to lose momentum, and the demonstrations it organized of late drew far fewer people than last year's protests. On top of that, the Maduro regime has taken over the legislature's premises, preventing Guaidó and opposition lawmakers from holding sessions there. That has deprived them of a symbolic building where Guaidó exercised his legitimacy.
The Guaidó government's biggest problem, however, is that it failed to reach its central goal: Maduro's exit. The ruler retains all of this powers, and has even fortified himself in recent months.
The desertion of the OAS by Argentina and Mexico, and their reduced roles in the Lima Group of regional states, which wants democratic elections in Venezuela, are a boon to Maduro. They say they are neutral over Venezuela. Days ago the Mexican president even said he was ready to sell oil to Venezuela for humanitarian reasons, in violation of the U.S.-led imposed sanctions.
But curiously, Maduro may have received his biggest support in past weeks from the United States, which has imposed most of the economic sanctions on his country. In a June 21 interview, President Trump said he had never quite been convinced about backing Guaidó, whom he considered "a kid." The White House emitted a statement the next day to reiterate U.S. support for Guaidó, but by then the damage was done.
Two days later, Trump said he was ready to meet with Maduro, prompting a positive response from the latter. Many analysts were puzzled by Trump's comments, which can only be interpreted as a bid to end the impasse in Venezuela and achieve something there, even if it's not what the U.S. has sought so far. His words may have been influenced by his fondness for authoritarian strongmen.
Whatever the motives, the actions of these three "allies' are not helping the cause of democracy in Venezuela. Maduro has duly named his electoral overseers, which could mean, once elections are held in December, the end of the country's last, remaining democratic body. And Argentina, Mexico and the United States seem to be helping him do it.