By Eva Golinger and cross-posted from Counterpunch.org
As Latin America celebrates the end of the region’s longest violent conflict in Colombia, I have watched with pain and dismay as its neighbor, and my adopted country, Venezuela, rapidly descends towards a deadly state of war. I lived in Venezuela for more than a decade, much of that time as an advisor and friend to former president Hugo Chavez. I believed in and strongly defended his bold efforts to eradicate poverty, empower grassroots democracy, redistribute Venezuela’s massive oil wealth and ensure universal healthcare and education for all Venezuelans. Today, many of Chavez’s flagship social justice policies are being unraveled by an economic and political crisis that has spiraled out of control under the government of his successor, Nicolas Maduro.
Over one hundred Venezuelans have been killed during months of anti-government protests, some at the hands of state repression, others by protestors using letal weapons. The demonstrations arose from the massive discontent throughout the country as food shortages, lack of access to medications, skyrocketing inflation and erosion of democratic institutions have intensified since Maduro won office by a slim margin in 2013. The opposition has made no attempt to conceal its objective of regime change and efforts by the Venezuelan government to dialogue were met with skepticism and distrust and resulted ineffective. The more the opposition ramps up its protests, the deeper in the government digs. Neither side seems poised to negotiate a way out of what could become the region’s next elongated, bloody war.
President Maduro’s convening of a constituent assembly to rewrite the nation’s constitution has been vehemently rejected by the opposition and has caused severe internal rifts within his own movement. While Maduro asserts the assembly – set to be elected on July 30 – will bring peace to the turbulent nation and deepen grassroots democracy, he has offered vague reasons to support that claim. The move is widely seen as an attempt to retain power. Ruling party members have stated that once installed, the assembly will have superseding authority over the established branches of government and elected officials, including the majority opposition parliament and the Attorney General, who has become one of Maduro’s most vocal critics. They additionally assert the assembly will dissolve those opposing branches of government and act as executor, legislator and judicial enforcer and could govern indefinitely.
There is increasing wariness of a government that has failed to ensure economic stability, has made non-transparent political decisions and has enabled the proliferation of corruption. A growing number of Venezuelans who supported Hugo Chávez and his policies have distanced themselves from his successor, dismayed by the country’s turn from a once vibrant participatory democracy towards a closed one-party state, intolerant of critics.
But, there is waning support for the violent anti-government protests, which have become anarchical and deadly and appear to have no viable political objective beyond Maduro’s removal from power. The opposition remains deeply divided without clear leadership or an alternative agenda that could resolve the severe crisis in the country. Now, in the face of the government’s imposed constitutional rewrite, the opposition has moved to set up a parallel state. I am loath to accept these are Venezuela’s only options…