Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and his Russian ally Vladimir Putin are predictably claiming that the swearing-in of Juan Guaidó as acting president is a coup organised by Donald Trump. Those of us who want a democratic – and as peaceful as possible – end to Maduro’s dictatorship must ignore the anti-American rhetoric and throw our full support behind the president of the country’s national assembly.
The descent of Venezuela into a dictatorship has resembled the fable of the boy that cried wolf. Back in July 2000, when Hugo Chávez won his first re-election, many in the opposition, surprised by his sudden rise in popularity, claimed electoral fraud. Since then, it seems, the norm has been for the opposition to accuse the government of stealing elections, without presenting enough evidence to gain the support of the international community. This has made it difficult for many outside Venezuela to label the regime a dictatorship. Until now.
Venezuelans have all the reasons in the world to be furious and to lose faith in democracy. Those that voted for Hugo Chávez 19 years ago were betrayed by a president that promised to end poverty and corruption. His government proved to be authoritarian and, at best, inefficient, while his successor, Nicolás Maduro, turned out to be a dictator who might one day stand trial for human rights violations.
If you are shocked by the deaths and imprisonment of protesters, you reject Nicolas Maduro’s attempts to consolidate a dictatorship, and you are not deluded by fantasies about how well the “revolution” would be doing if it wasn’t for the CIA’s telepathic assassination of Hugo Chávez or the economic war waged by the Pentagon, then perhaps you might be wondering if there is anything tangible that you can do for the people of Venezuela.
Venezuela may have reversed the ruling that stripped the National Assembly of its legislative powers, but that does not mean democracy has been restored. In the December 2015 elections, after 17 years of so-called “revolution”, the opposition coalition won 112 seats in the 167-seat National Assembly, while the pro-government party retained 55 seats. The ballot had a turnout of 74.17%, and was organised by the same national electoral council (CNE) that had overseen previous elections won by the government party. There was no doubt, then, that the vote was fair and that the opposition had received a clear mandate for change.
Very few outside Venezuela seem to have the courage to describe it as such, but the country under Nicolás Maduro is now a dictatorship. The heir of Hugo Chávez has shown that he will happily violate all principles of democracy and human rights to remain in power. For years, Chávez proudly reminded the world how many elections he had won, and how his revolution was giving a voice to the impoverished masses. Today, Maduro has no interest in anybody else’s voice – especially the growing majority that opposes him.
In Venezuela, newborn babies are dying at obscene rates. In the first three months of 2016, more than 200 died in hospitals in Caracas, Cumaná and San Cristóbal. Doctors and parents blame power outages, damaged incubators and shortages of medicines. Many Venezuelans, myself included, also blame the government of Nicolás Maduro.
Geraldine Moreno, 23, was shot twice in the face with a shotgun by the Venezuelan National Guard. Blinded and disfigured, the student died three days later. She was one of four protesters killed by Venezuela’s armed forces in the past month. Another three demonstrators have been murdered by “colectivos” – civilian armed groups openly supported by the government – and a 17-year-old boy was run over by a government employee during a protest.