Rightist leaders forced to walk fine rhetoric line, while left throws full support behind Maduro

CARACAS — Reaction to the political crisis in Venezuela has again divided Latin America along ideological lines.

While traditional allies of Socialist President Nicolás Maduro — including Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales — have been quick to express support for the Venezuelan government and blame the “US-funded right” for the violence that has killed six people in the last week, rightist leaders have preferred a more cautious line and have called for “dialogue” between the government and the opposition, while insisting that Maduro respect “fundamental freedoms”.

The figure of opposition leader Leopoldo López — who was arrested on Tuesday on charges of inciting violence — has been just as divisive, with many leaders demanding the 42-year old Harvard-educated economist be released immediately.

At press time last night, and after spending the night at a military jail, López was waiting to face court and hearing if he will be charged.


News of the unrest in Venezuela resonated loudly in neighbouring Colombia.

Yesterday, former president álvaro Uribe urged the “democratic world” to put pressure on Caracas to free López and denounced the “Venezuelan dictatorship” for ruining the country’s economy. He also used the Venezuelan crisis to hit President Juan Manuel Santos, his arch-rival, and warned that Colombia could fall “in the hands of chavismo due to the weakness of its government.”

Santos, however, had infuriated Maduro on Tuesday when urging the government “to give voice to the different political forces in Venezuela to guarantee stability in the country and the respect of institutions and individual freedoms.” It was enough for Maduro to accuse him of “having his little heart with fascism and the right.”

The Venezuelan president also found the time to slam Chilean President Sebastián Piñera for “meddling in Venezuelan domestic affairs.”

In a statement to the press, Piñera responded to the accusation by saying that his government respects “the right to self-determination” but “categorically condemns the violence and regrets the deaths that it has caused.”

He underlined, however, that Latin American countries “have signed the American Convention of Human Rights, known as the San José Pact, and are committed to democracy, the State of Law and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of information, opinion and freedom to demonstrate.”

Ecuador’s Correa was a lot less subtle.

This staunch Maduro ally warned that “a soft coup attempt is being carried out in Venezuela.”

“How are they sustaining two weeks of violence without heavy funding?,” Correa asked rhetorically during an interview with an Ecuadorean television channel. He explained that “soft political coups” are coups planned from outside the country.

“It’s not a military coup because nowadays the boycott is economic (…) The opposition is mobilizing and infiltrating violent people in demonstrations and then accusing the government,” he said.

With his statement, he supported a theory voiced repeatedly by the Venezuelan government. Maduro believes Washington is funding student groups with the intention of destabilizing his government.

Bolivia’s Morales also backed this hypothesis on Tuesday and said the US government is attacking “the work” of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who died of cancer in March, 2013.

Regional bloc Mercosur was less effusive but, nonetheless, strongly supportive of Maduro. On Monday, the bloc repudiated “every kind of violence and intolerance which pretends to attack democracy and its institutions.”

The Argentine government had also expressed support for the Venezuelan president on Monday.

Regional influence

In its editorial yesterday the Washington Post called for regional intervention saying that “it’s time for Venezuela’s neighbours to use their influence, before the chaos becomes uncontainable.”

But not everybody agrees. In conversation with the Herald, Pedro Brieger, political analyst, journalist and director of the Nodal.am news portal, minimized the importance that regional players could have in the Venezuelan crisis, citing the importance of domestic factors in determing the resolution for the crisis. More specifically he assessed that the opposition’s primary objective of having Maduro resign by generating street protests can be ruled out given the government’s mass popular support.

National Lawmaker for Buenos Aires City Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann, of Mauricio Macri’s PRO, held a different position, arguing that “any regional mediation in Venezuela should be welcomed if it can help to reduce the violence and promote political dialogue.”

Furthermore Deputy Schmidt-Liermann added that it “is a shame that we haven’t learned from the horrors of the region’s past , of the consequences of political divisiveness and of having a bi-polar region.” She added that she doesn’t think that the protests are part of a coup attempt and that any statements to that effect were an “irritant” to the situation in Venezuela.