VENEZUELA ON THE BRINK
In this CubaBrief we focus on the very urgent Venezuelan crisis where thousands continue to demonstrate on the streets demanding a return to democracy and the rule of law and where a growing number of young people have been killed by the security forces which have been trained by Havana’s seguridad de estado. State security, like the former KGB, is responsible for repression at home and intelligence operations abroad; but in Venezuela’s case both its repressive techniques and intelligence operations approved in Havana are coordinated by Raul Castro’s embassy in Caracas.
The InterAmerican Institute for Democracy [http://www.intdemocratic.org/en/] just released analysis and commentary by Beatrice E. Rangel, Carlos Alberto Montaner, and Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, three of the best Latin American intellectuals. We are pleased to reproduce them below.
We are also including the following article "Venezuela Attorney General Luisa Ortega Criticizes Regime She Serves" from The Wall Street Journal.
WHY THE WORK FOR FREEDOM IN VENEZUELA IS SO PAINFUL
By: Beatrice E. Rangel
For the better part of the 20th century Venezuela was regarded as the democratic showcase of the Americas in a continent where only the U.S., Canada and Costa Rica could pride themselves of being free societies.
During the 19th century the country was revered as the launching board for independence from Spain.
Now it is known worldwide for gross violations of human rights, dire poverty, economic bedlam and a social exodus which only rivals that of Central American citizens at the height of the region’s civil wars.
Faced with a government induced apocalyptic environment, the people of Venezuela have taken to the streets to demand the observance of the constitution that contemplates several means to end governmental malpractice... [More]
THE INVISIBLE CONTINENT
By: Carlos Alberto Montaner
For better or worse, Latin America is the invisible continent.
Paradoxically, for better is demonstrated by the sad Venezuelan case. When Nicolás Maduro threatens the United States or Spain and spouts some filthy barbarities, nobody pays him any attention. That’s something to be grateful for. They don’t listen to him. He doesn’t count. He’s not perceived. He’s a cellophane dictator and that bothers him.
For worse, because no enemy is small, much less a Colombian oaf (his origin is doubtful) who is 2 meters tall and weighs 130 kilograms. Also because, as Panamanians say, there’s nothing more profitable than “sailing under a mother-effing’s flag.” Panamanians love nautical metaphors... [More]
DANGEROUSNESS OF VENEZUELAN DICTATORSHIP FOR THE WHOLE REGION
By: Carlos Sánchez Berzaín
In order to remain as government, the Venezuelan regime is moving head-on towards an open dictatorship that has militarized the exercise of political power...
The dangerousness of the Venezuelan dictatorship is extreme for the whole region because Venezuela now -amongst other things- appears as the epicenter for the protection of; the FARC and narcotics’ trafficking from the FARC and Evo Morales’ coca leaf growers’ unions. Venezuela is now the State that issues passports giving fake identifications to people from territories affected by Islamic terrorism, it is where corruption -as in the “lava jato” case- remains unrevealed similarly to Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Experts agree that it is from this narcotics’ trade pivoting point in Venezuela that pressure from insecurity in Central America grows with gangs, mafias, and Mexican cartels included.
In this scenario, it is not unusual for Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua to have reiterated their unconditional support to Maduro’s dictatorship. What is unusual is for all democratic governments from the hemisphere, from Canada and the United States to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile -with extraordinary information services- not to sound the alarm over the extreme dangerousness the Venezuelan dictatorship’s remaining in power represents for their people, their governments, and their nations... [More]
The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2017
Venezuela Attorney General Luisa Ortega Criticizes Regime She Serves
By Anatoly Kurmanaev and Kejal Vyas
CARACAS—Venezuela’s top prosecutor, already under pressure for criticizing the authoritarian government she serves, on Wednesdaycondemned state violence against protesters, decried the stratospheric inflation racking her country, and praised the constitution President Nicolás Maduro wants to eliminate.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega’s comments to The Wall Street Journal, in a rare interview, appeared to confirm her break with the hard-line leftist regime, which expects unquestioned loyalty as it wrestles with a growing surge of public unrest.
Mr. Maduro has intensified the government’s crackdown on protests and civil unrest that have cost at least 31 lives in recent weeks. On Wednesday shocking videos went viral on social media showing National Guard using armored riot-control vehicles to run over protesters in Caracas. The incident was confirmed by the mayor of the Caracas district of Chacao.
With the oil-rich nation entrenched in a punishing economic crisis and a bitter power struggle between the government and the opposition, Ms. Ortega’s carefully couched criticisms of Mr. Maduro’s slide into authoritarianism have turned her into an unlikely face of dissent after having served for a decade as a pillar of the Socialist government.
“It’s time to come to terms with ourselves,” the 59-year-old lawyer said at her office in the capital. “It’s time to hold talks and to negotiate. It means one has to yield on decisions for the good of the country.”
Talk like that is unusual from a top-ranking Venezuelan official, particularly one like Ms. Ortega, who has long drawn the ire of rights groups for using what they considered kangaroo courts to lock away political foes and for allegedly helping the government bury charges of rampant corruption.
The government appears to be trying to shunt her aside in the face of her displays of independence. Her speeches no longer get live coverage from state TV, she has lost her bodyguards and the Maduro government has ramped up the use of military tribunals to circumvent the public prosecutor’s office.
Ms. Ortega has denounced the use of armed civilian groups that do the government’s bidding. She has urged that the right of protest be respected and due process guaranteed, complaining of hundreds of arbitrary detentions by National Guard and intelligence police. Her comments undercut the government’s argument that the street violence embroiling the nation stems exclusively from right-wing agitators.
“We can’t demand peaceful and legal behavior from citizens if the state takes decisions that don’t accord with the law,” said Ms. Ortega.
Born into a rural family of eight, Ms. Ortega said she was captivated by the message of social inclusion propagated Mr. Maduro’s charismatic predecessor, Hugo Chávez, while she worked as a provincial criminal lawyer in the 1990s. She joined Mr. Chávez’s government as a legal adviser when he won the presidency and redrafted the constitution in 1999 and has since married a ruling party lawmaker.
A blue, pocket-size copy of the constitution adorns her otherwise bare desk, and her government office is devoid of images of Mr. Maduro. “This constitution is unbeatable,” Ms. Ortega said. “This is Chávez’s constitution.”
That same constitution is what Mr. Maduro now says needs redoing. Rights groups have slammed that initiative as the unpopular leader’s last-ditch effort to avoid elections that polls show his party would easily lose.
The push to recast the constitution has also drawn stinging criticism from the U.S., where senators on Wednesdaypresented a bill urging President Donald Trump to take tougher actions to address Venezuela’s meltdown, including slapping sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for abuses and corruption.
Many of Ms. Ortega’s critics say she is looking to clean up her image in case of a change of government in Caracas. “I don’t trust her. She can’t just change her mask that easily,” said street protester Marta Corrales at a recent rally.
Others say her intentions are more sincere and come in response to her loss of powers as Mr. Maduro tries to consolidate control across the government. “What the prosecutor is doing seems to be genuine,” said Nizar El Fakih, a lawyer who has defended a host of high-profile Venezuelan political prisoners. In a polarized nation, he added, “she’s trying to carve out a third way, looking for a way to separate herself from Maduro.”
Proiuris, a legal watchdog group led by Mr. El Fakih, says it has documented 13 cases over the last six months of civilians being tried in military tribunals, cutting out prosecutors from the ministry Ms. Ortega runs. The group has also logged 50 cases in which judges have denied bail to defendants even after prosecutors recommended their release.
“This is one of the issues that the state has to view with a lot of concern,” the attorney general said in the interview, when asked about Mr. Maduro government’s growing use of military courts.
Ms. Ortega first made her discontent apparent in a surprise announcement on March 31. In an otherwise humdrum annual address, Ms. Ortega stopped to denounce a break in constitutional order after Mr. Maduro sought to transfer powers from the oppositioncontrolled legislature to his allies in the Supreme Court.
State TV promptly cut off transmission of her speech, which drew a standing ovation from those attending.
At other times, her criticism has been more subtle, and even cryptic. In a recent post on Twitter, she recommended her 411,000 followers to read an essay by 20th-century Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio. Titled “Democracy and Secret,” it discusses how authoritarianism and oligarchic powers often mask themselves behind democratic principles.
“It’s not easy to decipher what game she’s playing, what she’s calculating,” said Andrés Bello Catholic University law professor Antonio Canova. “But what is clear is that she’s now turned into a problem for the government.”
Financial Times, May 4, 2017
The implosion of the Venezuelan thugocracy
Regime change is possible, and the consequences would be global
When Hugo Chávez rewrote the Venezuelan constitution 18 years ago, he predicted it would last for “centuries”. This week his successor, Nicolás Maduro, said he wanted a new one. More ominously, the president called for the creation of a “popular assembly”. This new “supreme” organ of power would neither require political parties nor popular elections. In theory, it could rule forever.
The proposal provoked outrage. It gave further impetus to month-long street protests, where more than 30 people have died. “This is the most serious coup d’état in Venezuelan history,” said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. It is “a coup”, agreed Aloysio Nunes, Brazil’s foreign minister. But the power grab, the latest attempt by Mr Maduro to avoid elections, is also a sign of desperation. Regime change is a real possibility.
This will have implications far beyond Venezuela. At home, galloping inflation, rampant corruption, shortages of food, and a recession that has shrunk the economy by a quarter since 2013 have sapped support for Mr Maduro. Even as he declares Venezuela to be an ocean of peace, a video this week showed him dancing on state television, with the camera then panning over Caracas’ tear gas-filled streets. Newspaper El Nacional filmed a security truck ploughing into the crowds. Mr Maduro is also isolated abroad. Last week he initiated Venezuela’s self-ejection from the Organization of American States — to pre-empt the OAS kicking it out. [More]