U.S. Key Piece in the Transition to Democracy in the face of Opposition’s Collapse

In Venezuela, the opposition has reached a crisis, which was very much expected given that bad apples within it have undermined the struggle for democracy for many years now.  Indeed, for a long time the opposition has participated in elections against a government which has aspired to exercise full control over the Venezuelan state and society.

However, that has not always been clear to the opposition.

The opposition’s hope began to rise when it won a supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2015 parliamentary elections. But a few months after the elections, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, which is controlled by the Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, suspended 3 elected members of the opposition and later continued to undermine its work. After mass protests erupted this year in Venezuela, revealing the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime, the government called for the election of a constituent assembly, which would rewrite the constitution with the purpose of perpetuating the regime and reducing the power of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. This should have been enough to convince the opposition that there will never be an electoral exit to the current Venezuelan crisis.

Yet last October, an election for governors took place and some parties of the opposition chose to participate.  In a clear case of fraud, the government won 18 governorships while the opposition won 5. Furthermore, the five governors who won the election were persuaded by Henry Ramos Allup, the leader of one of the opposition parties and a former president of the National Assembly, to swear before the illegitimate constituent assembly. One of the governors refused to be persuaded and denounced Ramos Allup’s efforts, whose goal was nothing more than to become a candidate for president in the next illusive elections. It was at that point, that the united opposition, or MUD, abandoned him.

The Ramos Allup case shows how much the people of Venezuela have been betrayed by the opportunism of the political class.

As the journalist Orlando Ochoa Tiran has pointed out in a recent column written in Spanish,  “History has proven that, in order to achieve a desirable consensus in the face of a severe crisis, such crisis needs to be of such magnitude that it does not offer any of the political leaders the chance of surviving (politically). … In Venezuela, such crisis could not be more severe for the Venezuelan people. But the leaders of the opposition, in order to survive politically, defended what they have called ‘political spaces’, which is nothing but a euphemism to negotiate and adapt no matter what.”

So, what is next?

A new era has begun. The opposition must have the courage to fight with the people in the streets or perish. There is no alternative for them–it is freedom or death.

At the same time, the international community must help—not with statements, but with actions. Latin American countries must begin a process of heavy sanctions and isolation of Venezuela.

On October 26th, the so called “Lima Group”, a group of 12 Latin American countries plus Canada, issued a statement calling to support the National Assembly and electoral reform; demanding the provision of humanitarian aid and the release of political prisoners; and for the intervention of the United Nations

Of course none of these threats are likely to frighten the Maduro government, for threats must have teeth. This is why the U.S reaction to the statement made more sense when it pledged to apply it” economic “weight” to restore democracy in Venezuela.

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, is the most outstanding and heroic voice fighting for democracy in Venezuela. This week, he told a group of which I was part of that if there is any chance of restoring democracy in Venezuela, it is in the hands of the U.S., whose sanctions can hit the regime hard.

At this point, the Trump Administration cannot wait any longer; we must begin with a full oil embargo immediately.

About Luis Fleischman

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a Senior adviser to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science and Sociology at Barry University He is the author of the book, "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States."