Political turmoils in Latin America seem to follow an inescapable and cliched historical pattern: an unpopular administration that benefits the powerful few and neglects the rest is overthrown by popular demands of the masses who, in turn, elect a charismatic, populist leader who promises policy aimed at social inclusion and economic independence from the international capitalist system.
Later on, once power becomes disproportionately concentrated in that one leader, and the government realizes it doesn’t have the resources to provide the social and economic advances it promised, the masses head back to the streets to voice concerns usually related to insecurity, government corruption and what they see as backwards and ineffective economic policies.
This scenario usually ends in two ways: The natural self-destruction of said leader, or a political coup orchestrated by those powerful few who, with the aid of factions of the military and foreign intelligence agencies, install an administration to their liking. Then the cycle starts all over again.
Venezuela’s current crisis has been no exception to the political patterns of the region; in fact, Venezuela is a prime example of what happens when a country’s opposing factions are irreconcilable, institutional infrastructure is weak, and corruption and economic instability go rampant.
Foreign leaders’ views on the subject are about as polarized as Venezuelan political factions themselves, as leaders from different ideological families and political traditions use the crisis as an excuse to establish themselves on the “Who’s Who” map of South American influence.
Regional leaders’ stances on Venezuela’s crisis are somewhere between either “protecting the institution of democracy above all else,” a.k.a., “we’d really rather not get involved,” or “standing for the people’s rights, without regard for political stability,” a.k.a, “let’s bring this bastard down.” The region’s inability to agree on the matter is evidence of the lack of unity among its leaders and an unwillingness to take action when an inconvenient crisis arises.
Latin American Unity?
The power struggle between Latin American heads of state has turned into a catfight worthy of a telenovela.
Countries like Colombia, Peru and, notably, Panama, have deplored the situation in Venezuela and, most importantly, the violent reaction of the government towards protesters, calling for a third party mediator to resolve the conflict. Panama took the lead in requesting that the Organization of American States (OAS) convene a meeting to deal with the situation and to send a mission to Caracas to investigate the alleged violations against human rights.
Long story short, Venezuela strongly criticized the request, rejected entrance to any mission of that “dying organization” to the country and broke its diplomatic relations with Panama. In Venezuela’s defense, though, they have systematically expressed their rejection to the role of the OAS in Latin America, especially considering that the US is a part of it, and those two are not exactly on good terms.
On the other end of the spectrum, President Evo Morales of Bolivia took a severely defensive stance on Maduro’s government, claiming that the US and Colombia are behind an attempt to stage a coup d´état to destabilize Venezuela.
Then, surprise, surprise, Venezuela also broke diplomatic relations with the US (one more time) by expelling the US diplomats posted in Caracas. Which, in turn, resulted in the US expelling the Venezuelan diplomats from its country.
Not ready to take sides, Argentina and Brazil made empty statements on the matter to save face, lamenting the casualties and the threat that the conflict posed to constitutional order. Jibber-jabber at its best.
So far, the only viable proposed solution has been to appeal to the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, to create a committee of regional ministers of foreign affairs “to advise and search for mechanisms for retrieving peaceful coexistence in Venezuela” and to “support dialogue between Maduro and the opposition.” Considering the fact that the UNASUR is one of the few treaties that Maduro respects, this is not a terrible idea.
Still, none of these proposals implies much more than applying a bit of pressure from the outside so neighbors can feel like they are involved in finding a solution to this mess while essentially protecting their political and economical interests.
Why Doesn’t Anyone Want to Actually Get Involved, Here?
Latin America has seen its good share of coup d’ états, military dictatorships and severe economic crises. People are used to chaos around here, and by comparison, the current outlook is relatively stable. All leaders in the region were elected democratically, and regional economies have not fallen pray to hyperinflation, default or dramatic levels of unemployment.
When things are somewhat stable in the region, leaders start prioritizing economic integration and independence. Venezuela holds an indisputable influence in the region due to its oil money, and has invested a great deal in the arrangement of cooperation agreements that leave many neighbors somewhat dependent on Caracas. In this sense, it is hardly surprising that countries like Argentina, Brazil and mostly Bolivia, who have benefited from favorable energy deals, present a more favorable view on Maduro’s administrations than others. Consequently, the fact that the harsher critiques come from countries like Colombia, Panama and Chile, all of whom opt out for a more free market economic model, makes perfect sense as well.
So far, the region’s lack of solidarity in response to the conflict has only exacerbated the chaos and turmoil within Venezuela, exposing at a regional level a series of apparently irreconcilable differences that are clearly not only present within Venezuela.
A scenario of increasing political instability will invariably lead to a much more excruciating economic crisis that can only negatively impact neighboring countries. Chances are that not only Maduro will consider negotiating with opposing forces (under his own terms, that is) but that also regional countries will try to have a more proactive role in order to bring the country back to a more stable scenario that will prevent any drastic impact in the regional economy.
There’s no denying that a key aspect of economic prosperity is a stable political environment and, more importantly, a regional climate in which leaders are politically aligned in such a way that they can cooperate to create a regional economic model. This kind of stability leads to a happier populace, and consequently, leaders can expect to stay in power longer.
Sadly though, this region has been severely bullied with repression, violence, human rights violations and lack of freedom of speech that has elected leaders based on unrealistic promises to keep those dark times behind. It is impossible to discuss economic prosperity and a stable political environment without addressing the importance of defending basic civil and human rights. In this sense, regional leaders should stop tip-toeing around the fact that while Maduro may have been elected democratically, a leader ceases to qualify as democratic the moment he or she represses or violently silences the voices of his or her people. Hopefully, a crisis like this in Venezuela should be a massive wake-up call: if South America turns a blind eye to what is happening in Venezuela, things will only go downhill from there.
In the end, politicians care a great deal about the legacy they leave behind, and going down in history as a leader who managed to work together with regional counterparts to create political stability and a somewhat prosperous economy less dependent on external powers would, indeed, be a great achievement. But hopefully, regional leaders will understand that this is not just about maintaining regional stability and facilitating a desired economic model, but rather defending the basic principles of democracy. Establishing democracy in the region was no easy task: let the past be a reminder of what happens when we fail to speak up for what is right.