Maduro’s faded legitimacy

Student protests have awakened discontent across the class divide, challenging the very basis of Chavism.

Low-income neighbourhoods have also joined the protests, writes Tomasini [AFP]

Over the past few days in Venezuela, an increasing number of popular neighbourhoods have joined the protests, loudly expressing their discontent with the government and making it clear that they, too, have had enough of the violence, insecurity, scarcity and inflation. There are various accounts from residents explaining how they, too, live in fear for their lives and their future. This demolishes the myth that the division between government supporters and opponents is based on an entrenched class system. 

‘Venezuela is a country full of fear

Such uprisings are not new to Venezuela, but the sheer magnitude of the nationwide protests is a slap in the face of the government that has built their revolutionary and political speeches around the claim that there are two Venezuelas – the haves and have-nots.

The government’s excessive repression methods over the past week have pushed the limits of its erstwhile popular support, provoking the masses to express their disaccord with President Nicolas Maduro.

Residents from the poorest areas have adopted the same methods against the government’s violence and repression, setting up barricades, blocking military access, fighting back against the guards and using social media to show the world that they, too, have had enough of the government’s mismanagement. They say they were promised a better life, but life has now grown worse for everyone.

Government forces have attacked middle and upper class neighbourhoods like Municipio Chacao, storming buildings, setting some on fire, shooting long-range weapons and beating up residents, leading to deaths and severe injuries. As the protests permeate all levels of society, Maduro’s speech loses legitimacy and the politician loses more support.

The government is now forced to fight a new front, one where violence may not be so effective. As they continue to detain opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, scion of a powerful political family in Venezuela, the charismatic 42-year-old sends messages from jail, urging protesters not to give up what he has called “everyone’s struggle“.

A democratic solution

The opposition continues to call for a democratic solution, but the list of options is now more limited as the possibility of dialogue and a reliable referendum grows less likely. Maduro convokes peace talks with the opposition when he has lost legitimacy with all parties, not only due to the escalating violence but for all his actions. Peace talks should only be held among credible and legitimate parties, whereas Maduro’s legitimacy as president has been dubious since the elections. In fact, his opponent, Henrique Capriles refers to him as “the illegitimate”. The past few days have further exacerbated his inability to rule the country, pursue the best interests of the Venezuelan people and defend the values of the republic. 

While it is essential that the solution for this crisis come from within, it is frustrating to see the latent, and practically absent attention and support given by the region’s governments to the oppressed Venezuelan people.

And even if these factors were overlooked, there are four compelling reasons why meaningful dialogue, in practical terms, cannot take place. First, it is impossible to establish dialogue when you control and restrict channels of communication. Today, Venezuelan press is nearly entirely government owned, censured or controlled. Those independent news sources that have attempted coverage have been kicked out and humiliated, as it was the case of CNN and its journalists and production staff.

Second, Maduro refuses to take responsibility for the brutal violence taking place all over the country, and he even ridicules it by dancing on TV and convoking celebrations.

Thirdly, members of his party, cabinet and military forces have begun showing signs of declining support of Maduro as the situation continues to deteriorate.

Fourthly, Maduro continues to issue orders to arrest members of the opposition, including retired General Angel Vivas who publicly resisted his arrest by standing armed on top of his house, while the people of the neighbourhood set up barricades to prevent government forces from taking him.

Maduro seems to have outsourced the mandate of the armed forces to his Cuban allies in what is clear proof that he lacks the military intelligence and support to manage the situation. The tragic result is that Venezuela has become an unrecognisable warzone with pockets of violence, human rights violations, and destruction with heavy artillery and warfare weapons. In view of the implausibility of peace talks, the question is: What next for Venezuela? Will Maduro leave with his Cuban allies? What will it take to achieve this?

While it is essential that the solution for this crisis comes from within, it is frustrating to see the latent, and practically absent attention and support given by the region’s governments to the Venezuelan people.

It is ironic that Venezuela, better known as the land of Bolivar, is fighting practically alone for the very gift the country gave the continent. Venezuelan neighbours include skilled mediators and international diplomats well versed and capable to activate an international mechanism for ceasefire, condemnation of human rights violations, and the enforcement of the constitutional rights and duties of the people and government.

Only now are some of them waking up to activate the mechanism for democratic and institutional intervention.

Dr Rolando Tomasini, consultant specialised on supply chain and purchasing strategy working with leading multinational corporations from different sectors.