Venezuela’s descent into dictatorship accelerated this week with a bogus vote to create a Constituent Assembly that would be tasked with rewriting the country’s constitution. This comes on top of other assaults on democratic institutions like the judiciary and the news media, as Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro cements his ruinous rule.
While efforts to resist and reverse the repressive regime have not and will not be easy, Venezuelan citizens and Western Hemisphere governments, including and especially the United States, need to keep up the pressure.
The July 30 vote to pack the new body with regime loyalists was boycotted by the opposition, and there are allegations that even the preordained outcome was tainted by fraud. “The real reason the Constituent Assembly was convened is to take away any remaining power that exists in a democracy,” Jason Marczak, a director at the Atlantic Council’s Latin American Center, told an editorial writer. “The democratic checks that exist in the country will most likely be erased ... so we’re headed into a really extremely volatile situation.”
That situation has been building since the despotic drift under Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s presidential predecessor, who died in 2013. Maduro lacks Chavez’s charisma but also did not inherit his era of high oil prices, which at least temporarily paid for the socialist government’s reckless disregard for market forces. Now, despite having among the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela is on pace to be among the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
The repression intensified on Tuesday, when two prominent opposition mayors were hustled from house arrest to detention. But outside pressure has ratcheted up, too, including the imposition of new U.S. sanctions on key government officials, including Maduro himself.
“The Venezuelan government’s push for total control — despite evidence of a vast majority of people who are opposed to the government, despite the terrible economic conditions and scarcities which are being suffered — means that some international response is essential,” Ivan Briscoe, program director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group, told an editorial writer. Briscoe added that despite the worthy objective, any additional sanctions must not exacerbate citizens’ misery but must be targeted at regime figures.
That’s true, but clearly more must be done to save Venezuela and the region from Maduro’s chaotic and cruel rule.