Though many private organizations worldwide have shown support for the Venezuelan people against the abuses by their government, the silence of most international leaders is deafening.
On February 12 a peaceful protest turned into a popular resistance movement after several students were killed during encounters with the National Guard and paramilitary groups known as “colectivos.” The violence was condemned by presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Sebastián Piñera of Chile, and Ricardo Martinelli of Panamá, as well by president-elect Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Oscar Arias. But it is worrisome that they are a minority in a climate of opinion that has sanctioned the brutality of Nicolás Maduro’s government against the people of Venezuela in recent days.
Cuban president Raúl Castro said that Maduro “wisely and firmly handled this complex crisis” and that these events “confirm that wherever there is a government whose interests clash with the American circles of power and some of their European allies, there is an immediate target of subversive campaigns.” Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, among others, have expressed similar sentiments, occasionally defending the Maduro regime as democratically elected in accordance with popular support. President Cristina Fernández of Argentina said the crisis is not just about Venezuela, but about “respect for democracy, which is the same as respecting the popular will.”
Those are strong words, considering that Maduro was elected by a mere 1.59 percent margin over his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonsky, when the opposition logged about 3,200 voting irregularities.
Two points deserve attention. The first is that democracy consists in more than popular elections. Even if popular support is read into last year’s election, the constant abuse of the rights of dissenting Venezuelans provides new meaning to Montesquieu’s dictum: “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
The second point is that the international community has a double standard when judging government overreach of power. Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize-winner and indigenous-rights activist Rigoberta Menchú has declared that “No violence can bring about peace,” while insisting that it is necessary to find out who’s behind the Venezuelan protests and declaring that Maduro shouldn’t be open to dialogue with his opponents until that matter is settled. This is a way of indicating that sometimes violence is a means justified by certain ends. If that is taken for granted, we are left to judge whether the Bolivarian revolution was indeed a worthy end. However, in a historical rebuttal by Susan Sontag to Noam Chomsky’s refined version of that position, we find a solid reply to the international establishment: “Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.”
Whether it comes from a right-wing or left-wing government, whether it is sugar-coated with a revolutionary promise of socialist paradise or posed as a struggle against greedy businessmen, a tyranny is a tyranny is a tyranny. Silence condones it as much as outright support.