Three views on why Venezuela's plight is being ignored


(Disclaimer: I wrote this post last night; obviously, after today’s events, Venezuela is NOT being ignored in Washington, but I will post about this tonight)

By now, it has become common knowledge that Latin America simply does not care about the abuses heaped by the Maduro government on our people. Their main goal is to ensure “stability” in the country. In other words, all you people who dare protest, BUG OFF.

If Latin America is going to side with Maduro, the appropriate question to ask ourselves is … why? What does Latin America gain from coddling up to a bankrupt human rights violator with an empty noggin’?

In recent days, three experts chimed in.

Mario Vargas Llosa needs no introduction. The latest piece on Venezuela from the Nobel laureate – appropriately published in Spain’s El País, which serves as our region’s Grey-Lady-Of-Sorts – lays out his case: Latin American leaders are falling short with regards to Venezuela because they are all abysmal moral midgets.

Here’s his mouth-watering riff on Latin America’s Presidents:

What else can we expect from this pitiful collection of demagogues, corrupt politicians, ignorant fools, and dime-a-dozen Castro wannabes? That’s not to mention the Organization of American States, the most useless institution Latin America has ever produced in its history; it is safe to say that any time a Laitn American politician is elected Secretary General of that body, he or she becomes a pile of mush, succumbing to a sort of moral and ethical catatonia.

He then goes on to blame the left wing for the shame of not calling Maduro out:

The fight against under-development will always be threatened with failure and implosion as long as Latin America’s political leadership does not overcome the stupid inferiority complex that makes them lionize a left wing to which, in spite of the catastrophic credentials they bring in terms of the economy, political advancement, and human rights (are the examples of the Castros, Maduro, Morales, the Kirchners, Dilma Rousseff, Comandante Ortega and company not enough?), they concede some sort of moral superiority on issues of social justice and solidarity.

Ouch. Hasta a Dilma le salpicó

Along the same lines, Christopher Sabatini – former editor of Americas Quarterly – has a theory. Latin America’s silence with regards to Venezuela marks a turning point for the region, one caused by diverging political shifts and by the War on Terror.

During the nineties, Latin American countries sought to make the defense of democracy a cornerstone of regional diplomacy. This trend, given thrust by the fall of the Berlin Wall, reached its apex on September 11th, 2001, an ironic date that saw the signing of the Interamerican Democratic Charter.

After that, it has been the clear goal of most countries in the region to shift away from this paradigm. The countries in the region, most of them left wing, simply cannot be bothered to defend liberal democracy. Their priorities are elsewhere. Here is Sabatini:

Two trends explain the retreat (from common defense of democracy). The first was the growing political diversity in the region. If the 1990s were an era of political and economic convergence, with most major countries in the region agreeing on a shared definition of what a democracy means, the 2000s were an era of divergence, where countries adopted very different governance and economic models. Chávez in Venezuela and allies elsewhere adopted a more socialistic, autocratic interpretation of what a democracy looks like. Favorable global economic conditions and the election of more nationalistic governments in Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador also brought a newfound diplomatic assertiveness in a region increasingly divided between nations that relied on a U.S.-oriented trade network and those that saw it as a competitive threat.

The second factor underlying the post-9/11 retreat from a democratic compact may have been the Bush administration up north, perceived to be a throwback to the overreaching imperio. The march to war in Iraq (which involved a lot of arm-twisting of Latin nations to join the coalition), the public focus on regime change in Cuba, and the initial endorsement of what turned out to be a coup in 2002 in Venezuela seemed a return to a time when the United States felt it could meddle at will in the region. The reaction throughout Latin America, both among well-meaning democracy advocates and among regimes eager to redefine democracy to suit their own purposes, was a diminished appetite for collective action to safeguard the rights of others. The effort had become tainted by association.

Sabatini quickly kills the idea that Latin American countries will stand tall to preserve democracy:

The ideal that democracy is a defining right of all Americans throughout the hemisphere has been lost, at least for this generation.

In spite of this dire position that we find ourselves in, efforts to exert pressure on the Maduro administration continue. This letter from former Latin American leaders is beginning to circulate, and I thought it was worth printing in a separate post.

Me? I think it’s a bit premature to lay to rest the idea that Latin America will stand up for democracy in the region. The leaders that espouse the view that every topic is an issue of “national soverignty” are either on their way out or greatly weakened. Perhaps, with the end of the commodity boom, times will change, and a new crop of leaders will pick up the banner of Interamerican defense of democracy.

The time for that may come, ans soon, but for now, we should not be disappointed when, once again, Latin American leaders advocate for the “stability” of the Maduro regime.

Finally, Bloomberg’s Mac Margolis weighs in:

“But the code of silence among Venezuela’s neighbors also speaks to less obvious concerns. Brazil is the regional wheelhouse, with nearly half of Latin America’s GDP and the ambitions of a global power broker. It also is among the most diffident governments when it comes to calling out a brutish neighbor or denouncing human rights abuses. Put another way, as former foreign minister Celso Amorim once told me, “We don’t give certificates of good behavior.”

True, the economic crisis next door has been a bonanza for Brazil, which has big-ticket construction contracts in Venezuela and a $6 billion trade surplus. That’s a powerful argument for circumspection. But imported goods and capital also are a lifeline for cash-strapped Venezuela, which means Brasilia could easily speak up without fear of losing a good thing.

Brazil’s quietism may be part of an unwritten contract. “By toning down criticism of its neighbors, Brazil strengthened its hand as a regional power,” Amherst College political scientist Javier Corrales told me. “It’s the idea that the rise of Brazil won’t threaten other emerging countries.”

They can have all the Cristinas and Evos, but at least we have people like Vargas Llosa on our side.

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