Opinion Piece

OPINION: Venezuela on a collision course to chaos

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The detention of the Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma for supposedly attempting to instigate a coup to oust President Nicolás Maduro – in cohorts with elements of the military – is disturbing, especially given the current volatile political climate in Venezuela.

The overriding factor here is the rule of law, and the absolute necessity for that to take its course. But whatever the doubts one may have regarding due process in Venezuela, and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about how justice is dispensed in the country, we should not be jumping to conclusions.

At the same time it would not be at all surprising if there were factions within the Venezuelan armed forces that were plotting to overthrow Maduro. 

While the line between what is a democracy and what is a dictatorship is forever blurred, a totalitarian state would never have allowed the likes of Ledezma to hold high public office in the first place. Nevertheless, Venezuela's democracy is seriously flawed in a number of ways, and the tendency of the Maduro government to resort to conspiracy theories to lock up opposition figures is disturbing. Democracy is not just about elections, but is founded a priori on respect for people's rights. That involves, among other things, being transparent, and tolerant of criticism and opposition, something blatantly lacking in Venezuela.

What the Hugo Chávez and Maduro administrations have failed to do is recognize that the authorities in power must govern in the interests of all the country, and not just their own support base. This means that governments cannot, and should not, try to impose their campaign agenda on the whole country. Compromise, and accepting the reality of the situation on the ground, is required. One only has to look at Greece and the handling of its debt crisis by the recently elected left-wing government for an example of what appears to be a climb-down, but a prudent one at that. It also means that governments are regularly accused of not fulfilling their campaign pledges.

For as long as the Chávez-Maduro governments could nurture that popular support, using oil revenues to provide handouts to the underprivileged, they could claim some sort of legitimacy, despite the resulting polarization of society.

However, with the economic chaos in the country being exacerbated by the sharp drop in the price of oil – upon which the Venezuelan economy depends – and with Maduro lacking the charisma of his predecessor, it is doubtful whether the current regime can continue satisfying the demands of its popular base.

It may not be Ledezma, or the other opposition leaders detained – apparently on trumped up or non-existent charges – but it should not come as a shock if there were a military reaction. Even so, ousting Maduro in such a way, rather than via the ballot box or other constitutional means, would be lamentable for Venezuela and a serious setback for the democratic cause in Latin America.

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