“For freedom I bleed, I fight, I live on.”
— Miguel Hernández, “The Man Who Lurks”
I have only words of encouragement and admiration for the millions of Venezuelans currently fighting for their freedom. There is no way of knowing for certain how the crisis in Venezuela will end, but I am quite sure I know who is holding the weapons and committing the murders. And I also know who has been in the resistance there, for 20 years now.
Venezuela is a police state, preserved with the assistance of many Cuban officers — I saw this firsthand during a recent visit. It takes a great deal of courage to go out and protest in a country where the annual inflation rate runs higher than 1 million percent, where paralyzing blackouts occur routinely, hospitals lack the necessary drugs to save lives and monthly salaries amount to just a few U.S. dollars. And those in the government who feel under attack will invariably respond with repressive measures.
That is why I am stunned by the many images of people refusing to back down on social media and television. There are times, such as last week, when I tell myself that Nicolás Maduro has been defeated. But then I hear the guns, the screams of a young man being crushed by an armored car, the motorcycles of the pro-Maduro “colectivos,” and I feel hopeless again. We are all tired of this endless roller coaster ride — moving from high hopes to utter disappointment in a heartbeat.
Still, in the morning I go back on Twitter and realize the people of Venezuela have not given up. The opposition’s successful operation to free the political prisoner Leopoldo López, after five years of jail and house arrest, is a clear sign that the regime is finally breaking down. At the same time Juan Guaidó, the self-declared interim president of Venezuela, continues to reshape what it means to be “the opposition.” For those living in a dictatorship, being able to imagine a different country is crucial.
Some might see Guaidó’s fight to oust Maduro as an attempted coup. That would be a terrible mistake. His actions are simply an attempt to put an end to a dictatorship. This fight is as legitimate as the fight against Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Or the one against apartheid in South Africa, or slavery in the United States.
Denouncing a dictatorship — from any side of the political spectrum — should be a natural urge for all who take pride in being a democrat. There is no such thing as a good dictatorship. And Maduro is a brutal dictator.
Maduro was hand-picked by President Hugo Chávez before his death in 2013. He is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of young people who took to the streets against him, according to Hugo Carvajal, the former head of military intelligence known as “El Pollo.” Data provided by the human rights organization Foro Penal shows that his government had detained 775 political prisoners as of the end of April. Human Rights Watch has documented over 380 violations of human rights, including instances of torture.
And then there are the allegations that Maduro committed electoral fraud in May 2018, by barring opposition leaders from running for office, limiting the presence of international observers and overseeing the National Electoral Council, which counted the votes. These are just facts. Maduro is anything but a democratically elected president.
Now, if you’ll forgive me, I must speak about Mexico.
The “neutral” position adopted by the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador on the Venezuelan crisis places him on the wrong side of history. AMLO, as the Mexican president is known, had his chance; he could have been a regional leader standing up for human rights. But he chose not to.
“We expected more,” Guaidó said in an interview with the columnist Andrés Oppenheimer. Of course one should expect more from Mexico! The fact that someone like AMLO — a man who has denounced abuses of power, killings and human rights violations for decades, and while a member of the opposition — is refusing to stand up and side with the victims is confusing and frustrating.
His lack of action is morally wrong and a terrible mistake for his government. Human rights must be defended both within and beyond a country’s borders. Always. And a stance against the abuses of Maduro doesn’t equate in any way with support for a U.S. invasion.
The Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel once said: “Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” Today, that place is Venezuela.
In 1498, on his third trip to the Americas, Christopher Columbus reached what is today Venezuelan territory, near Isla Margarita. He was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place that in a letter to the king and queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, he later wrote that the “earthly paradise” must be very close.
I agree. Venezuela is beautiful and unique. Unfortunately, no place is a paradise without freedom.