On June 28, President Nicolás Maduro declared war on the Venezuelan people. . “If the Bolivarian Revolution would be destroyed,” Maduro said, “we would go to combat, we would never give up, and what was not achieved through the votes would be achieved bearing arms.”
Maduro’s increasing militarism against Venezuelan citizens is a testimony to the state’s diminishing grip on power. Humanitarian organizations should not take such a bellicose statement lightly. Sadly, Maduro’s hostility is a constant reminder of the Venezuela’s deepening democracy and rule of law crises.
Democracy and human rights in Venezuela have been in steady decline for the past 15 years. The late President Hugo Chavez consolidated state power in sprawling security forces while eroding the traditional separation of powers and cracking down on most forms of political expression. . The Chavez regime’s economic policies sent Venezuela down a dangerous path of financial self destruction. President Maduro, it seems, is anxious to finish the job.
Growing inflation and chronic consumer good shortages have pushed the Venezuelan people to a breaking point. Common items like medication, toiletries and clean water are scarce even in major cities. Supermarket shelves are empty. Venezuela’s precipitous decline has thrown into despair even early stalwarts of the Chavez-Maduro “Bolivian Revolution” model of government.. As hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans flee chaos and privation, Venezuela’s problems risk growing into a dangerous regional quagmire.
On April 1, tens of thousands of Venezuelans hit the streets of major cities to to protest a new low in Maduro’s authoritarian crisis. The Supreme Court of Justice - long controlled by Maduro’s goons, attempted to dismiss Parliament and assume the legislative powers of the Assembly. Within days, the voices of angry Venezuelans forced the Supreme Court of Justice to retract its proposal - but not before violent repression by state security forces acting on the order of President Maduro.
Not content using his own forces, Maduro recently authorized groups of private citizens - vigilantes - to act as shock troops in the name of the state. Since April 1, at least 100 protesters have died. Thousands are still recovering from injuries. An unknowable amount have vanished into the opacity of Maduro’s jails.
That prison population grows nearly every week. Though exact numbers are difficult to confirm, the number of political prisoners in Venezuela has ballooned since President Chavez’s death in 2013. In four years of Maduro, Venezuelans saw over 400 activists and opposition figures disappear into state prisons.
The jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez led to such public outcry that the Maduro regime took the rare step of reducing Lopez’s punishment from prison to house arrest. Once unheard-of, Lopez’s sentence reduction is the second capitulation by the Maduro regime in just three months. While Lopez’s house arrest lacks the international appeal of the Supreme Court of Justice backing down on its plan to gut the Parliament, the surprise outcome is welcome news to furious Venezuelans.
Many in Venezuela and around the world have rightly pointed out that Lopez’s house arrest is not a full release, nor does it make it less necessary to apply pressure to the Venezuelan government to restore even the most basic guarantees of democracy and human rights for its people.Lopez’s house arrest is a desperate attempt by the Maduro regime to stave off full-blown revolution. It is woefully insufficient.
It is time for the Venezuelan government to end repression and political persecution and to start restoring the pillars of democracy. The Venezuelan people deserve dignity. The long requested humanitarian channel should be allowed to run while measures to address the economic crisis are put in place. The Venezuelan people have shown incredible bravery and resistance in face of a desolate landscape. The international community must recognize President Maduro’s brutality if we are to bring this bloody era in Venezuelan history to a close.