Persisting Violence In Venezuela: Why the International Community Must Step In To Preserve Democracy

Civil unrest has entered its third month in Venezuela, a country in the midst of severe economic and political turmoil, with the reported death toll of the widespread anti-government protests rising to at least 62 as of the beginning of June, according to Reuters. Aside from increasing fatalities, hundreds have been injured throughout the protests, with many also arrested. The protests, which began in late March and have seen thousands take to the streets in increasingly violent clashes with pro-government groups and national security forces, were sparked in response to the undemocratic presidency of socialist Nicolas Maduro.

The Supreme Court, which is generally seen as being aligned with the Maduro government, made a number of contentious decisions that sparked outrage, including ruling to essentially override the power of the country’s opposition-led National Congress and banning opposition leader Henrique Capriles from political office for 15 years. Maduro also recently announced his plan to replace Venezuela’s constitution through the creation of a ‘constituent assembly,’ whose makeup would not involve political parties.

The opposition condemned these moves as being severely undemocratic and a method of consolidating Maduro’s power to thus push Venezuela towards a dictatorial system. Thousands have since taken to the streets in the last two months in opposition of Maduro and his government, calling for free democratic Presidential elections, the release of political prisoners, and the autonomy of the National Assembly to be upheld. In response to Maduro’s calls for a new constitution, Capriles encouraged anti-government protesters tweeting; “people, into the streets! You must disobey such lunacy!”

In a public condemnation of Maduro’s recent decisions, Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, who was once aligned with the President, recently criticized the continuing threats posed to Venezuelan democracy in saying that “it seems that participatory and protagonistic democracy, which cost Venezuelans so much [to get], is being eliminated,” according to Reuters.

The political unrest, which has spurred the violent protests in the streets of Venezuela, occurs within the context of a wider economic and social crisis that has gripped the country. The flailing economy marked by recession and severe inflation levels has sparked what many are calling a humanitarian crisis, with food shortages across the Venezuela. Additionally, the public health system has taken a hard hit from the economic state of the country, which has resulted in a waning provision of health services and shortages in medicine. Violence and crime is rampant with theft and looting becoming a common occurrence given many Venezuelans are struggling to get by. As a result of the deteriorating state of affairs in Venezuela, growing numbers of people are choosing to flee their country.

Domestically in Venezuela, unless concessions are made largely on the side of Maduro, the foreseeable future of the country is one marred by continued unrest, clashes between government supporters and security forces and the anti-government protesters that oppose them, and further fatalities and injuries. Given the wider economic and social struggles faced by Venezuelans, the preservation of its democratic political system is of utmost importance, to avoid the escalation of an all-out crisis situation in Venezuela.

In light of Maduro’s recent move to withdraw Venezuela from the Organisation of American States (OAS), and the failure of OAS last week to come to a resounding position on the situation in Venezuela during its meeting in Washington, the international community must come together to pressure Maduro to preserve and respect the democratic system he resides over. If OAS is unable to use its position as a regional organisation of influence to impact the political path of Maduro and Venezuela itself, the wider international community must step in. As reported by Reuters, White House Officials have hinted at the possibility of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector, though such decisions are reportedly “not imminent.” Yet without the decisive and quick-acting support of world leaders, the voice of the Venezuelan people will fall upon deaf ears, as it is continuing to be the case as protesters are met head-on by security forces in an attempt to quell the unrest. In turn, the country will inevitably continue its current trajectory away from democracy, and towards dictatorship.