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Venezuela

When Is Violence Acceptable? On Ending Tyranny in Venezuela

Modern Latin American history holds examples of insurrections to topple dictators, which contemporaries and posterity have judged positively. Why should there not be a rebellion today to free Venezuelans of its inept and tyrannical regime?

A man holding a molotov cocktail during clashes in Valencia, Venezuela
A man holding a molotov cocktail during clashes in Valencia, Venezuela
Jorge Eduardo Espinosa

BOGOTAOn Dec. 31,1958, a bearded man with a beret took the microphone on Radio Rebelde, the broadcaster of Cuban guerrillas opposed to the regime of President Fulgencio Batista. His voice could be heard in every corner of the island: "I've come to tell our people today that the dictatorship is vanquished. Batista's fall may be a question of 72 hours now. By now it is evident the regime cannot resist any longer..."

That of course was Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader speaking from Palma Soriano, in eastern Cuba. Batista had been a key contributor to the 1940 Constitution, but in 1952, shortly before elections were to be held, he usurped power with a coup, and proceeded to exploit the country until his downfall.

Che-Guevara-Cuba

Che Guevara in 1958 — Photo: Oficina de Asuntos Históricos de Cuba

It would not be the first time in recent Latin American history that arms were taken up to topple a tyrant and momentarily give people hope of freedom. On May 30, 1961, in the Dominican Republic, plotters waited on the road between the capital and San Cristóbal for the motorcade of Rafael Trujillo, the dictator "who never sweated" and was so eloquently portrayed by Mario Vargas Llosa in The Feast of the Goat. A shootout erupted and Antonio Imbert Barrera shot Trujillo in the chin, and before long he was lying dead by the roadside. When Imbert Barrera died on May 31, 2016, the Dominican President Danilo Medina praised his "brave conduct in planning the death of the tyrant" and "opening the doors to democracy."

Twenty years after the victory of the Cuban revolution, on July 19, 1979, Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza, the last of a powerful dynasty, left his country never to return. He was fleeing the triumphant "Final Offensive" of the Sandinista revolution, whose heroes included the guerrilla commander Daniel Ortega. Somoza was overthrown by a truly popular uprising against a 42-year rule that had kept an entire people in a state of misery. All Latin American countries that considered themselves democratic celebrated the victory of justice over evil and the brave over the oppressors. Today, however, it is Ortega who is facing overthrow threats.

A coup is increasingly plausible.

Which brings us to Venezuela, and its failed system of 21st-century socialism. The Venezuelan economist Ricardo Hausmann, economics professor at Harvard, warned in a column written early this year that armed action might be the only way out for Venezuela. A coup, he wrote, might seem an inconceivable solution, but is made increasingly plausible by the "unimaginable" conditions into which the country has been pushed.

We can thus ask ourselves: When is full use of violence acceptable? Why was it acceptable for Castro and his followers to get Batista out with guns? Why does the Dominican president today honor Trujillo's killers as a band of brave men? Why does Nicaragua solemnly commemorate the popular insurrection that ended 42 years of torture?

Can anyone doubt that the humanitarian situation in Venezuela is actually quite worse than the years of dictatorship in Cuba, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic? Realistically, does the opposition have alternatives? What has been achieved by so many condemnations by the international community or sanctions slapped on senior officials? What is the use of fraudulent elections the regime either wins or nullifies in their effects, should it lose? What else is needed before Venezuelans try this path? Hausmann proposes that the National Assembly — that is the legitimate parliament, not the loyalist Constituent Assembly — force Maduro out. Then name a replacement and a new government that will ask for military help from neighbors. It could lead to Venezuela's liberation.

What are they waiting for?

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