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Venezuela is no stranger to turbulent political events, but things took a dramatic turn last week as President Nicolas Maduro survived an assassination attempt. The attack marks yet another low point in the relationship between Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party and those who oppose his government.
President Maduro was speaking at a parade in Caracas when the attempted assassination occurred. The event, celebrating 81 years of Venezuela’s national guard, was suddenly interrupted as two drones armed with explosives were launched according to Venezuela’s interior minister Nestor Reverol.
In the aftermath of the attack, government security services can be seen shielding the president, who remained unharmed. He later addressed the nation, stating ‘a flying object exploded near me, a big explosion. Seconds later there was a second explosion’. He went on to say:
That drone came after me… but there was a shield of love that always protects us. I’m sure I’ll live for many more years.
In the following days, the government of Venezuela claims to have detained six people involved. They believe the assassination had been planned with the assistance of officials from Colombia and the United States – both have frosty relationships with Caracas.Since its independence, the country’s no stranger to political violence which intensified since the election of Socialist Hugo Chavez in 1998, who Maduro succeeded in 2013. An ongoing economic crisis has only increased this violence, pushing those on both sides towards the political fringes.
Those who oppose the government have criticised the increasingly authoritarian nature of the state, as exemplified by Maduro’s re-election last year. The United States condemned the vote, as a ‘sham’ whilst across the pond, European Union criticism was headed by Spain. Criticism of Venezuela has also come from Amnesty International, for political repression and an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Much of the criticism of the government of Venezuela is fair and comes from a position of good will. Anybody with a heart will no doubt empathise with the civilians who are suffering from the crisis. However, we must be just as critical of those who oppose President Maduro and realise that Venezuela will not be saved by simply removing the President or his party. This very narrative has been repeated countless times by both Western governments and media – remove the brutal strongman at the top, replace them with the opposition and everything will be fine. Iraq and Libya prove the complexity of this, and all those who have lost their lives in the aftermath of those conflicts, attest that the deeply multifaceted problems faced in those countries have not vanished with said dictators.
To start with, the opposition of Venezuela’s persistent attempts to revise history is at best extremely disingenuous and at worse flat out lying. Although the government of Venezuela does not have a human rights record to be proud of (and to be fair, no country does) it is unfair to pin this entirely on the current socialist government. If you listened to much of the mainstream reports, it is unsurprising to assume this. However, the history of human rights abuses by the state of Venezuela transcends ideology and stretches back over a century. Perhaps the most famous of these in the West occurred during the Caracazo, a wave of protests in 1989 where state security forces violently repressed those who opposed the government’s neoliberal reforms. While this does not excuse any existing human rights abuses in the country, it certainly contextualises them.
There’s no reason to believe that the opposition – which is extremely violent itself – would not continue in this tradition and repress their own political opponents. It would be easy to conclude that the situation in Venezuela was simple, that of a brutal, repressive dictatorship which is solely responsible for the violence against its people. In reality, the opposition in Venezuela are violent themselves and often go far beyond what would be considered legitimate resistance. Furthermore, a recent report suggested that in the 2017 clashes, up to half of those killed were due to actions directed by the official opposition and reports from 2016 suggest that the lawlessness created in violent tactics of the opposition, has resulted in three people being lynched every day. In addition to this direct action, the rhetoric is also extremely concerning. Henrique Capriles, a prominent opposition leader called for the army to revolt against the government.
The opposition also plays a role in exacerbating the economic crisis with the aim of forcing regime change. Although it’d be wrong to neglect the role the government has played in the crisis, it’d be equally damaging to gloss over the role the opposition has played. A key example of this is the food hoarding in the country.
In recent years, images of poor Venezuelans (note that they are more likely to support the regime than any other demographic) scavenging for scarce supplies have been plastered all over the media. Whilst this occurs, the owners of the institutions which transport food from farm to fork, processing plants, transport companies, and supermarkets, who often have links to the opposition, have been hoarding food and in some instances selling it to private companies in Colombia. They then inflate the price and sell it to Venezuelans near the border. It is important to reiterate here that the government of Maduro isn’t perfect, and if you view him as a repressor of human rights then you must view the opposition in a similar vein, encouraging violence and lawlessness in order to further their own political ambitions, all the while profiteering off human suffering.
Finally, it’s important to remember that in the twenty years since the socialist government took power, there have been very real improvements to the lives of many Venezuelans, most prominently bringing down unemployment, increasing the material wealth of the poorest Venezuelans, investment in health and education and a rapid increase in participation of the democratic process. These are at risk of being lost if the opposition got into government. Yes, it’s worth noting that they’re arguably being lost and some have been lost in the recent violence, but as previously stated the opposition has played a key role in causing the crisis.
Your opinion on the crisis in Venezuela is likely to be consistent with your wider political ideology. I cannot unquestionably praise Venezuela as the beacon of hope in a bleak world, and it’s certainly not my place to lecture those who’ve suffered at the hands of a government which is partly responsible for the crisis engulfing the country. However, what I can do is attempt to dispel the narrative that the crisis is entirely the result of the government and President Maduro, that the crisis can be solved by replacing the government with the opposition, or that the opposition is not partly responsible for the crisis, to begin with. As the people of Libya may tell you, the grass isn’t always greener.