Since the beginning of the year, Venezuela has been shaken by a series of protests. Many people are fed up with the growing inflation rate, severe shortages of food, medicine and other goods, and the unacceptably high crime rate. The protesters claim that these problems are caused by the economic policies of Venezuela’s government. Clashes with official security and paramilitary forces have resulted in over 40 deaths and a wave of arrests, including even minors.
Venezuela’s current president, Nicolás Madur0, dismissed the criticism of international media and governments, claiming that his government was the victim of a foreign conspiracy. In his view, there is an economic war being waged against his government – capitalism is to be blamed for high inflation rates and goods scarcities.
Overshadowed by the severe political crisis in the EU’s neighbourhood that may even result in a civil war, European leaders have not yet paid sufficient attention to the severe breaches of democracy and human rights violations in Venezuela. However, after the imprisonment of opposition leader Leopoldo López and the speech of Maria Corina Machado in front of the Organisation of American States and her successive expulsion from Parliament, international criticism has grown. To support the efforts of the Venezuelan pro-democratic opposition the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom invited opposition leaders and analysts to share their views on the current protests and the chance of real change.
Watch Maria Corina Machado address the international community to raise awareness about serious breaches to Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn-23Pb-EQ4.
Gustavo Villasmil, member of the opposition party Primero Justícia and active in CEDICE (Centro de Divulgación del Conocimiento Económico para la Libertad), conveyed the message of the protesters. He voiced the concern of the civil society and its skepticism towards Maduro’s call for dialogue. Before any dialogue, protesters want to see certain immediate commitments from the government:
- Immediate release of the political prisoners
- Immediate appointment of independent judges and an independent electoral body
- Immediate setup of an independent committee for the investigation of human rights violations
- Immediate disarmament of paramilitary forces.
“Without these prerequisites, the civil society will not participate in a process of dialogue, which is only a strategy of the government to divert the attention”, says Villasmil.
In case these protests and the economic hardships end up forcing Maduro to resign, there is little democracatic institutions left to build on after 15 years of systematic erosion by the Chavez regime and his successor. Eduardo Gómez Sigala, Member of Parliament, explained how the Chavist regime has been destroying democratic institutions ever since it came to power. By coercing the justice system, appointing temporary judges and controlling the Supreme Court, the Venezuelan justice system has de facto become an instrument of the government to maintain itself in power. The latest proof of this is the restriction of the right to peaceful demonstration by the Supreme Court on 24 April. Furthermore, the repression of opposition movements has been accompanied by governmental interference in the private sector and media censorship. Gómez Sigala reminded that “having elections is not enough to call a country a democracy”.
The Venezuelan opposition joined forced in 2008 by forming the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), a coalition of opposition parties gathering all political colours. After months of protests, the unity of the opposition may prove to be one of the key elements that could enable change.
Though peaceful change can only be brought by civil society and the democratic opposition forces, the EU can play a role in supporting their efforts. Ricardo López-Murphy, President of the Liberal Network for Latin America (RELIAL), called upon the EU and its member states to support the efforts of the opposition by holding the Venezuelan government accountable. López-Murphy demanded: “European politicians should travel to Venezuela and ask to see the political prisoners and raise questions about the repression of the protests. This will increase the pressure on Maduro!”