Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Latin America should intervene in Venezuelan catastrophe

By Jorge Castaneda

The harsh economic and security measures that Venezuela needs to emerge from its current debacle cannot be implemented without some form of consensus, which requires an end to repression and polarization. Unfortunately, none of this seems likely if left exclusively in the hands of Venezuelans, who have failed repeatedly over the past 15 years to find solutions to their dilemmas. Some have suggested a papal mediation, while others have advocated intervention by a group of Latin American former presidents.

The problem is that, with the exception of Panama, no Latin American government wants to dirty its hands. The three that count because of their size — Argentina, Brazil and Mexico — are all frightened of the consequences: Brazil that its companies will lose contracts, Mexico that the Venezuelans will finance opposition to their energy reforms and Argentina of losing an ally that knows too much.

The other two conceivably relevant countries — Colombia and Chile — refuse to get involved for different reasons: Bogota needs Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s cooperation to sustain negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas, while Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has always had a soft spot for Chavismo and its antics.

In the case of Crimea, the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators in Kiev and the possible Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine has called into question principles such as non-intervention. Not in Latin America: the number of students in Venezuela that are killed by government-sponsored paramilitary groups is still viewed as nobody’s business but the Venezuelans’, even though the country is a party to every regional instrument of international human rights law. No outside mediation is feasible without some censure or criticism of Maduro’s extremism, even if the opposition takes its lumps too for some of its factions’ radical, occasionally subversive stances.

Paradoxically, whereas the Western powers are probably powerless in Ukraine, Latin America’s major players could exert great influence in Venezuela. Economic sanctions on Russia may eventually hurt and the Kremlin may desist from further encroachment, but the Ukrainian crisis is largely impervious — in the short term — to outside involvement. In Venezuela, the danger is just as great for everybody and addressing it is much cheaper and easier. However, doing so requires what most Latin American governments sorely lack: vision and courage.

Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican minister of foreign affairs, is a professor of politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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