Commentary Magazine


Topic: Leopoldo Lopez

Maduro’s Empty Call for “Dialogue”

Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writer should be commended for making the Venezuelan dictator sound, in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, like a reasonable man in search of a reasonable solution. You would never know, on the basis of this article alone, that this is the same Maduro who claims to have encountered the ghost of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the Caracas subway system; who instinctively denounces his opponents as “Nazis” and “fascists”; who alleged a conspiracy involving former Bush administration officials to assassinate a senior opposition leader to “create chaos” in Venezuela.

What the piece–written in reaction to a stirring Times op-ed by Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader incarcerated by the Maduro regime on charges of “terrorism”–attempts to do is persuade the reader that Venezuela is really a socialist paradise warmed by the Caribbean sun. Hence, Maduro trots out the some of the standard themes which are familiar to observers of chavismo, for example that the revolution inaugurated by Chavez has shattered income inequality, along with former President Jimmy Carter’s belief that Venezuela’s electoral process “is the best in the world” (an old but much utilized quote that will serve as an eternal reminder of Carter’s obsequious stance toward the chavistas).

But there are other themes that are, significantly, absent from the op-ed. Until quite recently, the chavistas made much of the bold percentage increases in the national minimum wage, but Maduro wisely chose not to mention this “fact.” Wisely, because Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has been devalued by an accumulated total of 2,000 percent over the last 15 years, rendering meaningless any minimum wage boosts. As CENDAS, a Caracas-based research institute, has discovered, thanks to the shortages and inflation that have worsened radically during Maduro’s first year in power, each Venezuelan now needs four minimum wages to meet basic expenses for food, clothing, and health care.

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Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writer should be commended for making the Venezuelan dictator sound, in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, like a reasonable man in search of a reasonable solution. You would never know, on the basis of this article alone, that this is the same Maduro who claims to have encountered the ghost of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the Caracas subway system; who instinctively denounces his opponents as “Nazis” and “fascists”; who alleged a conspiracy involving former Bush administration officials to assassinate a senior opposition leader to “create chaos” in Venezuela.

What the piece–written in reaction to a stirring Times op-ed by Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader incarcerated by the Maduro regime on charges of “terrorism”–attempts to do is persuade the reader that Venezuela is really a socialist paradise warmed by the Caribbean sun. Hence, Maduro trots out the some of the standard themes which are familiar to observers of chavismo, for example that the revolution inaugurated by Chavez has shattered income inequality, along with former President Jimmy Carter’s belief that Venezuela’s electoral process “is the best in the world” (an old but much utilized quote that will serve as an eternal reminder of Carter’s obsequious stance toward the chavistas).

But there are other themes that are, significantly, absent from the op-ed. Until quite recently, the chavistas made much of the bold percentage increases in the national minimum wage, but Maduro wisely chose not to mention this “fact.” Wisely, because Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has been devalued by an accumulated total of 2,000 percent over the last 15 years, rendering meaningless any minimum wage boosts. As CENDAS, a Caracas-based research institute, has discovered, thanks to the shortages and inflation that have worsened radically during Maduro’s first year in power, each Venezuelan now needs four minimum wages to meet basic expenses for food, clothing, and health care.

In tandem with the omissions are the lies and distortions that one would expect from Maduro; for example, the fabricated charge that students protesting the sexual assault of a young female by National Guard members “burned down a university in Táchira State.” He demonizes the last two months of protest as the temper tantrum of a spoiled, entitled middle class, asserting that “the protests have received no support in poor and working-class neighborhoods.” What he doesn’t add is that the overwhelming presence, in the same neighborhoods, of the paramilitary colectivos is something of a disincentive to participating in demonstrations that highlight the damage the regime is doing to everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Maduro ends his piece with an appeal for “dialogue to move forward.” Who, exactly, will he dialogue with? Leopoldo Lopez is in jail, while his colleague Maria Corina Machado has been stripped of her parliamentary immunity. As the perceptive Argentinian journalist Daniel Lozano noted in his report of the attempt by Machado and her supporters to reach the National Assembly building, what they found resembled a “military fortress”:

An enormous deployment of the National Guard blocked off the National Assembly. An attempt at dialogue with them, once again, did no good. A group of government supporters surrounded the deputy shouting “Imperialist! Traitor! Murderer!” The rising tension forced Machado and her group to abandon the scene…Machado couldn’t speak to the chamber but made use of the street stage to ask a question. And to answer it. “Why do they want to silence me? Why do they want to do that? Because they are terrified of the truth and people on the streets fighting for their liberty.”

And it’s not just Lopez and Machado. Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos, the respective mayors of the opposition strongholds of San Diego and San Cristobal, have been summarily dismissed and imprisoned. Nobody yet knows the total human cost of the regime’s brutal operation to drive demonstrators off the streets of San Cristobal. As for Maduro’s laughable statement in his Times piece that the government will prosecute human-rights abusers in the security forces, the complete collapse of Venezuela’s independent judicial system over the last decade is the best counter-argument to that claim.

Inter alia, Maduro says, “My government has also reached out to President Obama, expressing our desire to again exchange ambassadors. We hope his administration will respond in kind.” Responding “in kind” would signal that the U.S. government is, at best, indifferent to the fate of Venezuela under continued chavista rule. Far better to point out that the friendship of the United States is a privilege, and not a right. If Maduro releases the thousand-odd political prisoners detained during the protests and reins in the colectivos, perhaps then, and only then, might there be something to discuss.

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Carter Should Stay Away from Venezuela

Former President Jimmy Carter has a poor reputation on many issues, among them Venezuela, where pro-democracy activists view him as a stalwart ally of the ruling chavista regime. So, with much of the country still convulsed by protests, their reaction to the news that Carter is planning another visit to Venezuela is somewhere on the scale between indifference and contempt. As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

Carter is accepted by the normally anti-American government—(current President Nicolas) Maduro praised him at a news conference Friday. But some members of the opposition harshly criticized the Carter Center for validating a 2004 recall referendum that (the late President Hugo) Chavez won amid complaints that the process leading up to the vote unfairly favored him.

An especially irate response to Carter’s announcement came in the form of an open letter penned by the dissident writer Daniel Duquenal, whose blog has been one of the most incisive guides to the events of recent weeks. Here is how Duquenal signs off:

I can assure you that half of the country has no respect nor credibility for you and the other half thinks you are a mere fool that they can use and discard as needed.

I think that not only you should desist from your trip, but should never mention us again. You have cursed us enough as it is. We will appreciate your future silence since nothing good ever comes from your statements on Venezuela. Worry not, I am sure we will find more worthy mediators.

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Former President Jimmy Carter has a poor reputation on many issues, among them Venezuela, where pro-democracy activists view him as a stalwart ally of the ruling chavista regime. So, with much of the country still convulsed by protests, their reaction to the news that Carter is planning another visit to Venezuela is somewhere on the scale between indifference and contempt. As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

Carter is accepted by the normally anti-American government—(current President Nicolas) Maduro praised him at a news conference Friday. But some members of the opposition harshly criticized the Carter Center for validating a 2004 recall referendum that (the late President Hugo) Chavez won amid complaints that the process leading up to the vote unfairly favored him.

An especially irate response to Carter’s announcement came in the form of an open letter penned by the dissident writer Daniel Duquenal, whose blog has been one of the most incisive guides to the events of recent weeks. Here is how Duquenal signs off:

I can assure you that half of the country has no respect nor credibility for you and the other half thinks you are a mere fool that they can use and discard as needed.

I think that not only you should desist from your trip, but should never mention us again. You have cursed us enough as it is. We will appreciate your future silence since nothing good ever comes from your statements on Venezuela. Worry not, I am sure we will find more worthy mediators.

Since Carter is unlikely to heed Duquenal’s candid advice, it’s worth revisiting his woeful record on Venezuela. As Duquenal notes, Carter has never condemned the notorious “Tascon list”–the illegal publication, by chavista National Assembly member Luis Tascon, of the names of millions of petitioners who signed up in favor of the 2004 referendum, and who faced harassment and discrimination from the regime as a consequence.

Nor has Carter ever revised his frankly bizarre view, expressed to the Miami Herald‘s Andres Oppenheimer following the fraud-stained presidential election of April 2013, that the “voting part” of that ballot was “free and fair.” Said Oppenheimer in response:

Is it fair to call “the voting part” of an election “free and fair,” when the opposition’s claims of irregularities have not been fully investigated? Is it fair to separate the “voting part” of an election from the entire electoral process, when a president has a more than 10-1 advantage in television time? And if the election was clean, why didn’t Venezuela allow credible international election observers?

Then there was the quite disgraceful tribute to Chavez on the occasion of the latter’s death one year ago. “Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen,” droned Carter’s statement. “President Chavez will be remembered … for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment.”

For the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans currently taking to the streets, Chavez is remembered as the architect of a system that has brought their oil-rich nation to the brink of collapse, with food shortages, hyperinflation, and rampant crime all staples of daily life. It was Chavez who appointed Maduro as his successor, and it was Chavez who empowered the army officers who stand behind Maduro. And yet, the best Carter can manage is the following anemic remark: “It is difficult for elected officials from opposition parties to resolve differences when they feel threatened and persecuted.”

Note the qualification: “they feel,” not “they are.” Note, too, the absence of any mention of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, any concern about the use of the Cuban-inspired colectivos–paramilitary gangs on motorbikes–to repress demonstrators, or any acknowledgement of the refusal of Henrique Capriles, the leader of the opposition MUD coalition, to hold talks with Maduro at the Miraflores Palace on the grounds that the president’s residence “is not the place to talk about peace – it’s the center of operations for abuses of human rights.”

The wooliness, of course, is not confined to Carter. The Obama administration has also engaged in its usual equivocation, despite the expulsion of three U.S. diplomats by Maduro’s regime on the preposterous grounds that the protests have been orchestrated in Washington. Still, surely there is someone in the State Department who understands the imperative of preventing Carter from handing Maduro yet another PR victory? Can State not prevail upon Carter–perhaps more politely than Duquenal did–to stay away from Venezuela?

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