Venezuela's government is moving further and further away from democracy, sparking criticism from former political partners. The socialists in Caracas portray the criticism as proof of their own integrity.
Fourteen countries from North and South America have urged Venezuela's Socialist Unity Party (PSUV) to restore democracy in Venezuela. In a joint statement, they have asked the government in Caracas to release their political prisoners and recognize the legitimacy of parliamentary decisions.
Along with representatives from the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, diplomats from leftist-governed countries like Chile and Uruguay signed the statement issued at a special meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington. Eighteen of the 35 OAS member states had requested the meeting to analyze the situation in Venezuela. The warning that the states issued, however, did not meet Secretary General Luis Almagro's request to suspend Venezuela. His tough line against Caracas is also controversial among political analysts.
Almagro and Maduro
In the middle of March, Almagro published a painfully blunt report detailing the social, economic, political and humanitarian situation in the Caribbean state. The country, which boasts the largest petroleum reserves in the world, has been slipping deeper and deeper into a supply crisis that is now putting millions of lives at risk. Opposition politicians and critical journalists are being threatened; some have been imprisoned or even murdered.
Since the end of 2015, the opposition has held a majority in Venezuela's congress. However, it is virtually unable to act because the government refuses to implement its resolutions or the PSUV-dominated constitutional court blocks them. The Uruguayan Almagro accuses President Nicolas Maduro (pictured at top) and his government of violating all 28 articles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
In response, Maduro demanded Almagro's dismissal and insulted him in his usual manner - calling him a "clown" and saying, "Almagro's stupidity in the OAS does not upset me for a second."
Choose socialism or die
The government imports its sparse food supplies from abroad and local committees for supply and production, known as CLAP, distribute them. The historian Agustin Blanco Munoz from the Central University of Venezuela says CLAP has become a political organization, as the people must show support for the government in order to be given food. "It controls people through their stomachs." Blanco Munoz sums up the situation as a choice between starvation and socialism.
Ivo Hernandez from the Institute for Political Science at the University of Münster in Germany welcomes Almagro's involvement. "Venezuela is currently in the hands of a dictatorship, and it is a good thing that the international community has taken notice of conditions in a country that was once one of the most solid democracies on the American continent," he says
The OAS has initially refrained from imposing sanctions. But General Secretary Almagro is likely to further pursue the issue. It is not the first time Almagro has suggested suspending Venezuela. However, it is questionable who would benefit.
"What the OAS does is extremely important," says the political scientist Hernandez. "So far, the international community has completely failed Venezuelans." Hernandez believes it is possible that international pressure may make Caracas restore the rule of law.
However, the historian Blanco Munoz considers this to be unlikely when he compares the Venezuelan government to Fidel Castro's communist regime in Cuba, which was effectively expelled from the OAS in 1962 and hit with an expanded trade embargo. "The OAS helped them stay in power another 55 years," he said. "Had the US bombarded Cuba with food and medication, would it be different today? Did the supply shortage actually harm Castro?"
That is why Blanco Munoz does not believe that Maduro and his supporters would be upset about sanctions. In fact, Venezuelan vice-president Diosdado Cabello had announced before the OAS meeting: "They would do us a favor." Blanco Munoz doubts that the OAS would impose sanctions against Venezuela, although he adds:"But if they do, PSUV leaders will throw a party."