Venezuela's Long Slide Toward Chaos

Venezuela's Long Slide Toward Chaos

As reformers' hopes fade, Washington has an opportunity to end its hands-off approach.


THE INTERNATIONAL community must not shirk from its responsibility to support democracy in Venezuela, resolving to compel the Maduro regime to acknowledge its democratic and humanitarian obligations. Because Venezuela is a current member of the UN Security Council, the United Nations should consider establishing a contact group of concerned nations to engage with the Maduro government as a means to expand political space for the opposition. The OAS must be similarly engaged, for example by invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter as appropriate and looking for ways to build democratic institutions in Venezuela. At the same time, Venezuela’s membership in the Common Market of the South, MERCOSUR, should be reviewed using the democracy clause in the Treaty of Asunción that has been applied against other member nations.

Washington has taken a hands-off approach to Caracas, believing that most actions and rhetoric would only backfire by playing into the Chavista narrative of a meddling, imperialistic “empire.” Other hemispheric nations have supported Venezuela in this approach for their own purposes of muting the U.S. voice in the region. What is clear at this point, however, is that without U.S. leadership the international community will not coalesce around an effort to support democracy in Venezuela. Circumstances on the ground have become bad enough that it should be obvious to all but the most ideologically blinkered that the United States is not responsible for Venezuela’s political and economic crisis. In fact, U.S. purchases of Venezuelan crude have helped maintain the regime in Caracas. In addition, the United States is in a stronger position now to play a regional leadership role, given its continued economic recovery coupled with slowdown in South America and the weakening of institutions that exclude the United States (and Canada) such as UNASUR. Recognizing this, the United States should heighten its efforts within international bodies, including the OAS, to promote a prodemocracy strategy for Venezuela now that the regime’s DNA has been revealed. Washington should work with other willing democratic leaders in the hemisphere to call out Venezuela for its antidemocratic abuses, building momentum and support for current (and not just former) leaders to speak out. Because Latin America’s inclination has been to remain silent, this will likely require the personal engagement of the most senior U.S. officials, perhaps deploying some of the political capital recently gained in the region by steps to normalize relations with Cuba. Washington should also engage Beijing, urging it to stop propping up the sinking Maduro regime with concessional loans and restructured financing that only postpones the inevitable and makes future debt repayment to China and other lenders more difficult. And Washington should continue its efforts through U.S. law enforcement to identify Venezuelan individuals engaged in illegal actions, including corruption and drug trafficking, following and exposing the trail wherever it may lead. This will also assist the opposition-led National Assembly in performing its important oversight responsibilities, holding the government accountable for its actions and decisions.

The December 2015 elections were a turning point for Venezuela as the Maduro regime radicalizes in the wake of its massive electoral rebuke. The question now is whether the full potential of the results will be realized or whether they will be diluted or reversed as Chavismo fights back. Democracy itself could be at stake.

Eric Farnsworth is the Vice President of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. He has previously served in the State Department and the Clinton White House.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Carlos Díaz