With the violence in the Middle East all-consuming, we sometimes forget to examine the atrocities being committed in our own region, in the continent closest to us. However, in light of the recent events in Venezuela, it is important that the geo-political focus be shifted closer to home, at least on occasion.
From 1999-2013, Hugo Chavez ruled his petro state with an iron grip, crushing free speech and expropriating property under the guise of a flimsy democracy. In 1992, as a Lt. Colonel, he attempted to overthrow the government by force. He failed, was imprisoned, and ran in the 1998 presidential election after being pardoned, trading in his army duds and manifestos for business suits and amicable discourse. During his 14-year tenure, he shuttered private TV channels, shipped free oil to autocratic nations, drove his country’s economy into a downward spiral, and set up militias to harass journalists, opposition politicians, and entrepreneurs. His death ended a career of shape shifting and demagogic opportunism, but his successor has proved to be a similar monster.
In just a few short months, Nicolas Maduro robbed the 2013 elections and suspended democracy in favor of executive decrees, all the while overseeing the looting of businesses and mass assaults on merchants. Crime levels have soared, nearly keeping pace with a stratospheric inflation rate that would make Robert Mugabe blush. It’s quite a task to turn the country with the world’s largest oil reserves into the doppelganger of another Caribbean state with rolling blackouts, but Chavez and a pinch of Maduro have done the trick.
Although Prime Minister Harper and President Obama took to twitter in March of 2013 to subtly bash the regime when the commander expired, no tangible repercussions have ever been imposed by their respective administrations; nothing in the form of sanctions, diplomatic expulsions, or even vocal condemnation at OAS gatherings. If Iran and Cuba warrant such actions, the same standard should be upheld when dealing with Venezuela. Canada, a country with a far more polished name in Latin America than the USA, has a lot of pull, be it through trade, investment, or tourism. It would be an ideal moment to use some political capital to corner the oil-rich financier of the despotic infrastructures that prevail on this side of the globe, indirectly Buy Levitra provoking the collapse of Communist Cuba, while simultaneously stalling the anti-democratic tendencies in energy-starved Argentina, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
The Venezuelan populace, exhausted from upticks in murders and shortages of everything from flour to toilet paper, has reached a breaking point in recent days. In light of the state-sanctioned looting of businesses, hundreds of thousands of citizens, particularly students with employment concerns, have taken to the streets to protest the incompetence of their rulers. While they have done so peacefully, this has not saved the demonstrators from acts of brutality, with hundreds of students now being detained and tortured, while three have been killed in cold blood. The most heart-wrenching images have been those of a 24-year old graduate student, Bassil Alejandro Dacosta, who was viciously beaten and shot in the head on February 12, 2014, while escaping Chavista gangs. He carried a flag, threw no stones, hurled no insults. The night before, he posted on Facebook, without fanfare or drama, his plans to “march without fear, towards a better, more hopeful future”. His death is symbolic of the loss of a nation’s best and brightest to ignorance and cruelty.
But there is flickering hope in such bravery, such defiance. The burning desire to be free is in full flame, with Venezuelans demanding the rights to shop in fully stocked stores, to walk the streets at night without fear, to open a business without hindrance, and to speak truth to power without retaliation. The unspoken heroes who gave their lives, and the thousands more who put themselves in the path of hatred in the streets of Caracas, of Valencia, of Maracaibo, these are the soldiers who are waging war against apathetic culture and statist demagoguery. They are continuing their fight, and may others demand that democratic statesmen of the Americas loudly condemn and firmly sanction totalitarian behavior. There will likely be more turbulence before paz, justicia y libertad can be claimed by all Latin Americans, but with the courage that has been fiercely unleashed in past days, perhaps now is the time that the last of our hemisphere’s tyrants will successively be cast into the wastebasket of history.
Venezuela, in its darkest hour, may indeed be close to the dawn.