Venezuela has been struggling with lack of democracy since 1999, when former president Hugo Chávez took power and kept it for fourteen years. When he passed away in 2013, his pupil Nicolás Maduro (left) took over and has remain in office since, despite controversial elections. Many democratic leaders such as Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López (right) have endured persecution and even imprisonment for fighting for a free Venezuela. The ISHR South America Committee provides a view on the situation. 

Have we forgotten Venezuela?

By: Latin American Committee, ISHR

Drafted on April 26th, 2022. Posted on May 2nd, 2022.

Venezuela is a unique case in history. A country with two governments: one Marxist-Castro-Chavista, run by Nicolás Maduro; and another, democratic, Constitution-based run by Juan Guaidó, who assumed office with good intentions, massive popular support and no political power at all.

It has been living in such a dilemma for a decade. Maduro controls all law-enforcing institutions; Guaidó is just a democracy-in-theory leader who has world-wide recognition but no real power to exert.

Nobody knows what will happen in Venezuela in the short term. Maduro’s government always tops statistics when it comes to corruption, lack of freedom of expression, human rights violations, repression and poverty.

We see an opportunity to advance good changes and reset democratic initiatives in Venezuela. As the events in Ukraine take center stage, Moscow’s allies in the Caribbean region –Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela– are waiting silently in line to see how things turn out in Kiev. Putin is losing steam; he is isolated. Venezuelan democratic forces should start moving to bring about solutions for their compatriots. Otherwise, no one will do it for them.

One gets moved when reading the Human Rights reports about the Maduro regime. One simple figure is astonishing: between 2016 and 2019 “…the regime police killed more than 19,000 opponents, alleging “resistance of people to authority”. Among others, these people were previously ill-treated, tortured, or forced to extrajudicial dissapearances.

Have these killings gone unnoticed?

Obviously not. But not very much has ben done about it, either.

This is the best moment to put pressure on Maduro to bring about democratic reforms. Maduro, Ortega and Díaz-Canel know well that his big Boss in Russia is busy 100% dealing with the Pandora box in Ukraine, where reality have hugely exceeded his expectations.

Venezuela’s wave of refugees are the largest in the history of Latin America. Colombia can not handle things anymore; its government infrastructure is shaking. And Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina are in no better situation than Colombia.

So, a solution to the crisis of Venezuela has gone beyond the borders. By now the international community should play a more active role.

Why waiting for a worse-case scenario if a change in leadership in Colombia in the coming elections might risk the status quo?

When Washington says “Colombia is a US stategic partner”. It means that Colombia will never fall into any foes’ hands. But, at the same time, it means that the Venezuelan opposition parties should take the initiative. It is not a matter of waiting until the US says “Go now”. Democracy should be spurred by its own believers and preachers. Otherwise, the Maduro regime will remain assured that when in Washington big business is top listed, the Latin American issues are relegated for later, if there is a chance. Self-confidence in dictators goes up as they see their enemies looking somewhere else.

Very important, Maduro should be brought to justice for all his crimes committed. He should not remain in power any longer for he is a real threat to all Venezuelan citizens. He is a major obstacle for democracy as long as he –or his party– remain in power.

Putin is so engaged in Ukraine at this point in time that current events do not leave much room for actions against his cronies and followers in the Western hemisphere.

Putin’s hands are tied. This poses a big opportunity for democracy to regain momentum in Latin America. Maduro knows he is on the verge of abandonment on part of Moscow. Should there be popular massive demonstrations in Venezuela, he might not see his god’s help.

Human right organizations should also raise awareness and commit themselves to helping recover democracy in Venezuela, once and for all. There might not be another chance to restore order in Venezuela.

Read the commentary of ISHR Nicaragua on the situation in Nicaragua