Venezuelans Want Prez Maduro Out, But Oppose Foreign Intervention
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, who has led his country into one of the world’s worst economic crises, will be sworn in for a new six-year term on 10 January.
It will be a lonely inauguration. Some 40 countries – including the United States, Brazil, Colombia and the entire European Union – refuse to recognise Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president because they believe his May 2018 re-election was rigged.
How else could a leader with a 21 percent approval rating win 68 percent of the vote?
Most Venezuelans hold Maduro – the late Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor, first elected president in 2013 – responsible for their suffering.
But holding Maduro accountable has proven vexingly difficult.
Seeking Change Democratically
There are three ways that citizens can democratically demand change from poorly performing leaders: Vote them out of office, protest for them to change course or resign, or make demands through face-to-face dialogue.
Venezuelans have tried all three.
The last free elections in Venezuela were held in December 2015. Opposition parties won the Venezuelan legislature in a landslide, securing a super-majority that gave them unprecedented strength to check Maduro.
His ruling United Socialist Party responded by progressively stripping the legislature of its powers and ensuring the Socialists would not lose another election.
First, the government-run national electoral agency canceled a proposed presidential recall vote in 2016. Then, in July 2017, the Socialist Party called an unconstitutional vote to elect an alternative legislature. Later that year, party officials openly committed fraud in regional elections.
When Maduro stood for re-election in 2018, Socialist Party officials disqualified leading Opposition politicians and parties from running and forced the vote seven months early to prevent them from reorganising.
Many Venezuelans fought for their democracy.
From April to July 2017, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets nationwide, mostly in peaceful protest. Marchers in Caracas who neared the presidential palace or government ministries were met by police and soldiers in riot gear who scattered them using tear gas, water cannons and, often, live ammunition.
The Military Option
After democratic elections, protest and dialogue failed to resolve Venezuela’s political crisis, some international leaders proposed a more drastic measure to seek political change.
In August 2017, shortly after the US slapped economic sanctions on President Maduro himself, President Donald Trump said that the United States was considering a “military option” in Venezuela.
Administration officials even met with Venezuelan military officials plotting a coup before declining to support their plan.
Latin American governments rejected Trump’s “military option.” But some exiled Venezuela leaders have embraced the idea.
“Military intervention by a coalition of regional forces may be the only way to end a man-made famine threatening millions of lives,” the former Venezuelan minister and Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann wrote in a January 2018 Project Syndicate column.
Hausmann pointed to the 1989 US invasion of Panama and World War II as positive precedents of foreign interventions that ended tyrannical regimes.
Former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma has used euphemistic language to justify a foreign-backed removal of Maduro, saying it would be a “humanitarian intervention.”
Comparing the crisis there to the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s, Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro has suggested that military intervention could be justified under international law, which includes the “responsibility to protect.”
In the view of “military option” supporters, Venezuelans would welcome such an operation if it ended their suffering. Intervention would be “extremely popular” in Venezuela, according to Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations and a prominent Maduro critic.
Would Venezuelans Support Foreign Military Intervention?
My research in Venezuela suggests otherwise.
In November 2018, I worked with Datanálisis, one of Venezuela’s most respected polling companies, to add several questions about about military intervention and potential negotiations to its nationwide tracking poll.
Venezuelans are also skeptical of renewed talks with Maduro.
Only 37 percent would “agree with a new dialogue between the government and the opposition.” Forty percent are “indifferent” to renewed talks or did not answer the question.
So What do Venezuelans Want?
Given how poorly past engagement with Maduro’s government has gone, their doubts are understandable. Interest in further talks balloons, however, if the same question is reframed to include a positive result.
These results should boost current efforts by the European Union and the Boston Group – a coalition of Venezuelan and American politicians – to restore high-level contact between Venezuelan government figures, opposition leaders and foreign officials.
Diplomacy may be slow and frustrating. But a negotiated settlement would have the support of the people who matter most: the Venezuelans who must survive Maduro’s rule.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)