No shades of gray: The two sides in Venezuelan politics

Venezuela isn’t a cheesy soft-porn novel. The international community has to realize there are no shades of gray in Venezuela anymore. For all its flaws, one side is democratic; the other is just plain autocratic.


The political crisis in Venezuela is unfolding at warp speed. In recent days alone, the National Electoral Council (CNE) discarded any type of election or referendum in the near future; the National Assembly declared that a coup had taken place and began the process of impeaching the country’s inept president, Nicolás Maduro; and massive rallies were held all over the country.

But where, you might ask, is the international community in all of this?

Vaguely calling for “dialogue,” and doing its best to not get too involved.

This is baffling. If anything has been laid bare in recent days, it is that there are two sides to the crisis in Venezuela, but only one of them is the right one to support.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding a vote to do away with a government that is responsible for one of the world’s worst economic crises. Its authoritarian foes are doing everything in their power to prevent a vote and remain in power. Those same foes are also utterly incapable of easing the country’s economic mess.

There are no shades of grey here. On one side you have the good guys; on the other,  chavistas, who are intent on holding on to power at all costs.

But the international community does not see it that way. Everyone from Pope Francis to the U.S. has held back from exerting too much pressure on the Venezuelan government. While their sympathies clearly lie with the opposition, they are reluctant to express them in public or, more importantly, in actual diplomacy.

The insistence on dialogue as a way out of this mess puts both parties on an equal moral footing. It suggests the international community would be fine with any outcome, as long as it was mutually agreed upon.

The international community’s reluctance to fully embrace the opposition reflects its uneasiness with them.

Part of the problem stems from the opposition’s inability to do away with chavismo. It is widely believed in international circles that a series of mistakes by the opposition (including supporting a failed coup attempt in 2002 and bizarrely deciding to boycott the 2005 legislative elections) has led to chavismo extending its shelf life longer than it would have otherwise. As a politician from the southern hemisphere told me not long ago, “if they can’t be an effective opposition, why should we believe they are ready to govern?”

Much of the problem lies in the lack of depth the opposition leaders have shown regarding the solutions to the country’s numerous problems. Compared to politicians in other countries, who are well-versed in international affairs and global policy trends, Venezuela’s opposition politicians seem parochial, polarizing and posturing, not up to the enormous task of governing the country, driven to its disaster by successive chavista governments.

Very little is known about the economic ideas of the opposition’s main leaders. It is widely believed that Henrique Capriles, the opposition’s candidate for president in the last election, has rarely, if ever, read a book. Until recently, his main economic influence was former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose policies led Brazil into its current recession. And while the president of the legislature, Henry Ramos Allup, is a well-versed man, his economic ideas are straight out of the gutter of failed interventionist experiences that led to chavismo in the first place. As for the imprisoned Leopoldo López, except for tweets and the declarations of his wife, he has not been heard from since being imprisoned almost three years ago.

This lead to the impression that many have, that the opposition has clearly not done its homework. But in reality they have not enjoyed the breathing room to reflect on the country’s multiple ills, much less come up with solutions. If they are not getting beaten up, they face constant threats of jail, or even murder.

But the fact that the international community does not extend more support is a shame, and an undeserved snub.

Modern Latin America has seldom faced a crisis as complex as the one currently facing Venezuela. The opposition, for all its flaws, is preserving a united front against a unique adversary: a narco-military-socialist-petrostate. Amazingly, it appears at times to be winning.

While the solutions to Venezuela’s problems are political, they are also technical. When the problems you face range from starvation to plummeting oil production, you need more than political acumen and chutzpah to navigate the waters. Numerous challenges—from dealing with an unwilling public bureaucracy, to a lack of funding to keep government running, to untangling massive price distortions—lie ahead if the opposition ever gets the opportunity to govern. They will have to find the time to brush up on understanding the technical aspects of these many problems whether they want to or not.

The opposition is saying that the end of chavismo is near. If all goes well, the leaders will have to show the world they are indeed ready to govern Venezuela and help her transition into normalcy (let alone democracy).

Few outside Venezuela believe they can pull this off. But given all the perhaps imperfect opposition has been through, and seeing how awful the alternative is, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. What’s more, they are now the only legitimate option.

The international community needs to end its efforts in mediating the conflict as if both sides were moral equals. Mediation must mean justice and supporting the moral options. Today that means supporting Venezuela’s opposition wholeheartedly in their efforts to oust South America’s newest dictatorship.

More Commentary

Scroll to Top