On February 12th, a peaceful protest in Venezuela turned into a popular resistance movement when several students were caught in the middle of violent encounters between with the National Guard and paramilitary groups known as “colectivos.” Though many organization around the world have voiced their support towards the Venezuelan uprising against Nicolas Maduro’s government repression, the silence by most international leaders is deafening.
Condemning declarations were made by presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Sebastián Piñera of Chile, and Ricardo Martinelli of Panamá, as well as president-elect Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Nobel Peaze Prize winner Oscar Arias. It is worrisome to see they are the minority in a climate of opinion that has condoned the proceedings of Nicolás Maduro’s government against the people of Venezuela in recent days.
Cuban president Raúl Castro has said Nicolás Maduro “wisely and firmly handled this complex crisis” and that these happenings “confirm that wherever there is a government whose interests clash with the American circles of power and some of their European allies, there is an immediate target of subversive campaigns. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and others have made remarks along similar lines, occasionally defending the Maduro regime as being democratically elected and operating with popular support. Argetina’s Cristina Fernández has said that the crisis is not just about Venezuela, but about “[r]espect for democracy, which is the same as respecting the popular will.” Those are strong words given that Maduro was elected by a mere 1.59% advantage against candidate Henrique Capriles Radonsky on a date where the opposition logged about 3,200 irregularities.
Two points deserve proper attention. First, democracy is beyond the process of elections by popular vote. Even if popular support was conflated with a pyrrhic victory in last year’s election, constant abuse of power against dissenting citizens in Venezuela provide new meaning to Montesquieu’s dictum that “[t]here is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
The second point is that the international community has a double standard when judging overreach of power. Nobel Peace Prize and Guatemalan indigenous rights activist Guatemala Rigoberta Menchú has responded to the Venezuelan crisis saying that “[n]o violence can bring about peace” while insisting that Maduro should find out who’s behind the protests and should not be open to dialogue until that matter is settled. His view channels the vision that sometimes violence is a means justified to certain ends. When taken for granted, we are left to judge whether the Bolivarian revolution — the slogan for the Venezuelan government’s socialist project — was a worthy end. However, in a historical rebuttal by Susan Sontag to Noam Chomsky’s refined version of that position, one could solidly reply to the international establishment: “Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time”. In other words, violence is never justified.
Whether it comes from a right wing or a left wing government, whether it is sugar coated with a revolutionary promise for socialist paradise or poised as a struggle against greedy businessmen, tyranny is a tyranny is a tyranny. Silence condones it as much as outright support.