So did you hear the one about the tinpot dictator who wrote an OpEd in the New York Times?
Maduro’s inaugural romp in what is arguably the world’s newspaper is filled with the usual half-baked, SIBCI-tested propaganda that’s been shoved down our throats in hundreds of cadenas over recent months: the protests are violent, they are tiny, and they are funded by the U.S. government. Rinse, lather, repeat.
We could do a point-by-point debunking of Maduro’s bulllshit claims (he created universal health care???), but that would not the best use of our time here. The real question isn’t “what” Maduro is saying, but “why?”
Maduro’s piece is more than just a well-written-yet-ultimately-doomed attempt at damage control. It signals a dramatic departure from Chávez’s self-assured, outward-looking line. Whereas Chávez used a supposed external threat as an instrument for internal domination, Maduro is turning the formula on its head: taking internal conflict abroad for international validation.
Maduro wants to convince the world that he’s the good guy. The only plausible motivator for this is that he feels he’s being portrayed as the villain. What’s weird about this is that he actually seems to care.
Consider this quote:
“Those with legitimate criticisms of economic conditions or the crime rate are being exploited by protest leaders with a violent, antidemocratic agenda.”
LEGITIMATE? Legitimate is not a word Maduro has ever used when speaking to the Venezuelan public about the protests. Yet he (or, rather, his ghost writer) chooses to portray discontent as legitimate to a foreign audience. While he admits to the world that “the government has also confronted serious economic challenges,” he hammers the point to Venezuelans that our shortages and inflation are the result of an opposition-led “war on the economy.” (BTW, Maduro, kudos on the super classy advertisement for SICAD II).
Democracy also receives an inconsistent treatment by Maduro on both fronts. He makes a point to address “claims that Venezuela has a deficient democracy […] represent mainstream sentiment,” invoking that very word no less than seven times throughout the text. Maduro admits to the world that democracy in Venezuela has been called into question by Venezuelans. Has anyone ever heard such a thing from the man speaking in Spanish?
Credit his OpEd writers for trying something new and adapting to their audience, but they are playing with a losing hand here and, deep down, they know it. They address the claims made about his commitment to democracy in a sort of vacuum, without any reference to the blatant affronts to separation of powers and popular sovereignty we’ve seen in recent weeks: the persecution of an entire political party, the imprisonment of two elected mayors, or the dismissal of a congresswoman, y pare usted de contar.
Maduro’s treatment of human rights issues in his article merits another post altogether, though I’ll just comment on the fact that, in sequential order, protesters are blamed for damaging property, then declared directly responsible for fatalities (investigation shimvestigation), and only afterwards, is a feeble admission made about “a very small number of security forces personnel […] accused of engaging in violence.” We’re in Chigüire Bipolar land here.
Maduro saves the best for last, closing with a heartfelt appeal to the American people so that they may be guided by the truth in rejecting legislation that would impose sanctions on Human Rights violators. His plea is for the Venezuelan people, who “do not deserve such punishment.” Never mind that those who face sanctions, if enacted, would all be Venezuelan officials and those associated with the government, y’know, the ones that actually do the Human Rights violating (although, now that I think about it, perhaps Maduro, the big softie, means to spare the protesters from retaliation, since they’re the ones perpetrating crimes on humanity).
He ends with a majestic call for using diplomacy in resolving the crisis.
So what are we to make of this piece? Why does Maduro display such concern about international public opinion, while putting on a show about being so above caring about his domestic popularity?
Chávez battled external demons fictional or not – usually fictional – to give himself ammo for his political battle back home. With Maduro, it’s the battles on the home front that are being submitted to the court of international public opinion for international validation.
It’s like he doesn’t actually grasp that, in accepting Venezuelans’ discontent only in a foreign tongue to a foreign newspaper and then blatantly ignoring those complaints in his actions, then pleading with gringo readers to be spared from the consequences, Nicolás Maduro is only incriminating himself.