By José de Córdoba
From Mexico to Brazil, most Latin American governments have remained impassive as the Venezuelan government violently cracks down on growing protests, arrests opposition leaders and censors most of the country’s media.
Ideological affinity with Venezuela’s leftist government and economic interests, including the country’s oil largess, have complicated the response—or lack thereof—in the region. “The silence has been deafening,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Washington-based think tank, the Inter-American Dialogue.
Shifter’s obvious reference is the seeming international obsession with events in the Ukraine.
That lack of condemnation gives Mr. Maduro a lot of political leeway to increase the pressure on his opponents, according to former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda. “There is no Latin American government that is going to lift a finger,” he said.
Stepping in to fill the vacuum, a group of former top officials from countries across the Americas circulated a communiqué on Friday condemning Venezuela for its repression of the protests and what it called the arbitrary detention of students and political leaders.
The 17 signers, including former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana, ex-Peruvian leader Alejandro Toledo and former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, urged the Venezuelan government to guarantee safe conditions for political protest and to free all detainees, among other demands.
Enrique Krauze, Mexico’s leading historian, said one reason for the tepid response from governments was the region’s enduring romance with leftist revolution, in its Cuban and Venezuelan variants, as well as Latin America’s lingering anti-Americanism. “Much of Latin America never completed a critique of the Cuban revolution and the Castro government, even though the world understood the lessons of the Soviet regime,” said Mr. Krauze.
Caracas has received open backing of allies such as Argentina, Bolivia and Cuba, who echo the Venezuelan position that the protesters are part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. Venezuela blames the U.S. for the alleged conspiracy—which the U.S. denies.
Luis D’ Elia, one of President Cristina Kirchner’s key political operators, blasted Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested this week, tweeting Mr. Lopez “should be shot by a firing squad as an agent of the CIA.”
Brazil’s president Dilma Rouseff has stayed on the sidelines, while the Brazilian foreign ministry has signed a statement by regional organization CELAC expressing solidarity with Venezuela and calling for a dialogue between political forces in the country.
On Thursday, the Brazilian Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense released a statement rejecting “all kinds of violence and intolerance that seek to undermine democracy and its institutions.” The statement appears to endorse the Venezuelan government position that protesters are part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Maduro government.
“We must condemn with the vehemence necessary any attempts to replace the legitimacy of the polls by undemocratic violence,” said Sen. Eduardo Suplicy, a former boxer, who proposed the vote.
Mr. Castañeda, the former Mexican foreign minister, believes that in the Brazilian case, economic considerations predominate. Brazilian companies have exported hundreds of millions of dollars of frozen chicken to Venezuela, while big Brazilian construction firms have projects all over Caracas.
Brazil’s foreign ministry said the country supports conciliation and national dialogue, and believes in the maturity of Venezuela’s democratic institutions.
Analysts say that Mexico, where the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party recently returned to power, appears to be returning to its traditional noninterventionist foreign policy.
In the case of Colombia, Bogota is in the process of negotiating a peace treaty in Havana with communist guerrillas which would end Colombia’s half-century-old civil war. Western diplomats say Colombia feels it needs the support of Venezuela and Cuba to successfully conclude negotiations. That support could be jeopardized if Colombia takes a strong position on the Venezuelan crisis, diplomats say.
One notable exception has been Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli, who said he “deplored” the country’s violence and called home Panama’s ambassador in Venezuela for consultations. Mr. Maduro responded that Mr. Martinelli was being “interventionist.”
In Chile, leftist politicians who are part of the incoming government and even the main student union have denounced Venezuelan student protests and criticized Chile’s outgoing conservative President Sebastián Piñera for calling on all sides in the Venezuelan conflict to respect human rights and the rule of law.
“Mr. Piñera’s statements were hurried and regrettable” said Daniel Nuñez, an influential communist party lawmaker who forms part of the ruling coalition elected last month under the leadership of previous Socialist President Michele Bachelet, who has remained silent about the current Venezuelan crisis.
Even Chile’s students, who have frequently staged street protests in Santiago that, at times, turned violent, expressed no sympathy for their Venezuelan brethren.
“We do not feel represented by the actions of the Venezuelan student sectors, which have put themselves on the side of defending the old order opposed to the revolutionary path,” said a statement issued by Chile’s powerful student federation, known as the FECh.
Smaller states in the Caribbean and Central America which depend on Venezuelan oil subsidies also have kept quiet.
“Venezuela is a very influential country because of its oil,” said Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico’s UNAM University. “A lot of countries are afraid the Venezuelans will cut off their oil.”
But if the violence worsens, some analysts say Latin American countries will ultimately be drawn in. “Even the center-left in Latin America are going to have to stand up and recognize this is outrageous what’s going on,” said Eric Farnsworth, director of the Americas Society-Council of the Americas.
Credit: the Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com; Photo caption: Protesters in Caracas