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Venezuelans Resist an Illegitimate and Violent Regime

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A majority of Venezuelans voted for change and now has no choice but to resist a regime that can hold on to power only with violence.

Is the election in Venezuela over? Apparently not. The self-declared winner, Nicolás Maduro, is behaving very much like a man who knows he lost on April 14. In resorting to violence and brute force to silence the opposition’s demand for an honest recount, Maduro has signed the death warrant for chavismo’s legitimacy.

Numerous videos of soldiers and other chavista thugs chasing, beating, and shooting unarmed protesters have circulated around the world since last month’s election. Last night, video from Venezuela’s national assembly showed opposition members being beaten as they protested a gag rule imposed by assembly president Diosdado Cabello.

Post-election analyses have shown that even many of those who had supported caudillo Hugo Chávez before his recent death were among a majority of Venezuelans who voted for change last month. And that majority now has no choice but to resist the Cuban-backed regime that cannot hold on to power, let alone govern, unless it uses violence against the Venezuelan people.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski has called for a peaceful protest today in Caracas, and the Maduro regime has summoned its supporters to a competing demonstration. Chavista leaders have threatened to prosecute opposition leaders for inciting violence and sowing the seeds of a “civil war.” But it is clear that chavista leaders are eager for a confrontation. The competing demonstrations are on opposite sides of metropolitan Caracas, so if the government’s backers want trouble, they will have to go looking for it.

If there is widespread violence, it should be remembered that it is the regime that purchased $9 billion in Russian arms and distributed thousands of weapons to militias. It is the chavista movement that has deployed motorcycle-borne gunmen, modeled on the Iranian basij, to attack opposition protesters. Maduro and his Cuban handlers are deluding themselves if they think they can elude responsibility for escalating violence.

Maduro and his Cuban handlers are deluding themselves if they think they can elude responsibility for escalating violence.

The Obama administration has wisely declined to recognize Maduro’s victory, questioning the rush to judgment by chavista electoral authorities and their refusal to conduct a thorough recount despite the reported close results. Among Latin American leaders, only Panama and Paraguay withheld recognition of Maduro’s election. As political repression intensifies, Obama and these other leaders will conclude that they made the right decision in withholding judgment on Maduro’s legitimacy.

Other presidents in the region who were quick to accommodate a Maduro victory must be viewing the violent images coming from Caracas with serious concern. If Maduro is the legitimate, elected president, why isn’t he willing to air disagreements in the country’s congress? Other left-leaning presidents in the region — in Brazil, Argentina, and El Salvador, for example — do not resort to beating opposition figures seeking the right to speak in congress. If such violence continues and spreads to the streets, one can only hope that other democratic leaders will break their silence and repudiate Maduro’s tactics.

It is remarkable to see assembly president Cabello leading the charge against the opposition — in other words, doing the dirty work for Maduro and Havana. Cabello was thought to have the confidence of many in the military who chafed at the heavy hand of Cubans who are desperate to micromanage the post-Chávez succession to ensure the flow of aid and oil to the bankrupt Castro regime. By following Havana’s instructions, Cabello is leading Venezuela’s military into a moral ambush — putting soldiers in a position of having to murder peaceful protestors in the service of a foreign regime and a corrupt, illegitimate despot.

Every Venezuelan patriot can recall the admonition of the country’s liberator, Simón Bolívar: “Maldito sea el soldado que vuelva las armas de la república contra su pueblo," or “Cursed is the soldier who turns the nation’s arms against its people.”

No Cuban dictator or brutal mercenary can be expected to comprehend the precepts of a man known throughout Latin America simply as, “El Libertador” — “The Liberator.” But no Venezuelan can forget that solemn admonition or forgive those who dishonor his legacy.

Roger F. Noriega is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; he was assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs and ambassador to the Organization of American States in the administration of former President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.

FURTHER READING: Noriega also writes “Latins Rally to Restore Human Rights Panel,” “Post-Chávez Crisis an Opportunity for Venezuela,” and “Chávez’s Dangerous Liaisons with Tehran.” Jay Hallen contributes “Searching for Gorbachev in Caracas” and Mark J. Perry comments on “The Chávez Legacy: Venezuela Became One of the World’s Most Economically Repressed Countries under His Regime.”


Image by Dianna Ingram / Bergman Group


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