November 23, 2014
Where angels fear to tread
Proposing the firing-squad for Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López (as picket leader Luis D’Elía did last week) is an extreme over-simplification of Venezuela’s current plight but hardly anybody is doing justice to the full complexity of the situation there — neither in the region, including Argentina, or in the rest of the world. Despite López’s taste for spotless white T-shirts, nothing is black and white — both sides have highly flawed credentials for the democracy they claim to defend. Not only López himself but other opposition leaders like deputy María Corina Machado and Caracas City Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledesma who celebrated or formed part of the 2002 coup briefly toppling the late Hugo Chávez and who stayed on track trying to oust the government over the next decade any way they could. And while President Nicolás Maduro’s expulsion of CNN from Venezuela has made the biggest splash internationally, it is far from being the only example of his contempt for freedom of expression and the press. Much is made of the martyred dead (including a beauty queen) but while the world is rightly shocked, such violence is unfortunately common coinage across the political spectrum in Venezuela — and hardly surprising in a country with over 70 violent deaths a day, i.e. a daily toll that is many times higher than the total fatalities in a fortnight of political turbulence.
Not only are there no angels on either side but in some ways it is simplistic to speak of two sides, as highly polarized as Venezuela undoubtedly is. Not all the opposition can be placed in one bag (whether as “fascist,” to use Maduro’s favourite word, or any other common denominator) and nor is the heritage of Hugo Chávez entirely monolithic — even if much of the speculation about personal ambitions, factional differences or the role of the army has yet to be borne out by reality in a crisis situation. Maduro likes to present himself as the people’s champion against the élite while the opposition seems very comfortable with a middle-class image but this is at the very least sociologically inaccurate — the Venezuelan middle class is very far from numbering the almost half of the electorate voting for Henrique Capriles against Maduro last April.
Too many of the region’s leaders are rightly backing an elected government while overlooking that democracy is being partly destroyed in Venezuela in the name of its own defence — too much of the international press sides with the opposition against repression, regardless of their possible illegality in the present and the certainty of illegality in the past. Everybody needs to look much harder at what is really going on in Venezuela.