Venezuela Needs Regime Change, But Not By Any Means Necessary
Maduro needs to go, and his left-wing defenders need to stop making excuses. But calls for his removal by military means are also misguided.
BOGOTA — I find it difficult to write about the situation in Venezuela, as I am not entirely clear what the best strategy is for extricating the country from its crisis and restoring democracy. Usually I prefer to keep quiet on matters where I feel unable to make a contribution to the public debate. And yet I find it impossible not to write on Venezuela, because I don't want my silence to be read as indifference to the suffering of Venezuelans or support for the dictatorial rule of President Nicolás Maduro.
I also want it to be clear that I don't condone a possible military intervention in that country. But before going in to that, I'd like to lay out both my convictions and doubts on the state of Venezuela.
My first conviction is that the Maduro government is a dictatorship. It has eliminated the separation of powers and annulled the 1999 Constitution with an all-powerful Constituent Assembly voted in through sham elections. It persecutes opponents and exercises control over the judiciary and electoral organs. I reject it for these reasons. I disagree, therefore, with sections on the Left that defend the regime, ignoring its authoritarian traits, the repression of opponents and public protests, and its economic incompetence. And I would side with any efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela.
My take on Maduro would seemingly place me alongside the radical Right in Latin America. But it also comes with a second conviction that contradicts the hard-right, namely that I am utterly opposed to any military intervention. This is not just out of principle and respect for international law, but because I firmly believe it would worsen Venezuela's situation and trigger an even bigger humanitarian calamity. The reason: While everything indicates that most Venezuelans today reject Maduro, it is also clear his government retains the support of some social sectors and the backing of the Armed Forces.
The solution must be peaceful, negotiated and electoral.
An armed intervention could thus provoke an extremely painful civil war, which is to be avoided. Recent experience has also shown how U.S.-backed interventions to forcibly change regimes — in Syria, Libya or Iraq — have had catastrophic results.
These two convictions lead me to a conclusion I share with rights activists in Venezuela like members of Provea, whom I respect and admire: The solution to this crisis must be peaceful, negotiated and electoral, and backed by international pressures and public protests like the ones that took place on Feb. 12. It could take as its reference the 1999 Constitution, which many support as a framework for free elections for a transitional government.
Lastly, I firmly believe that whatever happens in Venezuela, the rest of Latin America and Colombia especially must boost efforts to receive Venezuelan migrants and refugees with dignity. This is not just a legal obligation; it is an ethical duty toward a brother nation that has in the past taken in millions of Colombians.
That is where my convictions end and my confusions begin. Clearly, in the past, dialogue and talks have helped Maduro win time, defuse pressures on him and thus, stay in power. I understand, then, those calling for more international pressure and deadlines. But I fear these will push the situation toward the dreaded intervention, which some want. As desperate as the situation is, prudence is still paramount.
*The author is a lecturer at the National University in Bogotá, and a researcher for the NGO Dejusticia.