As the third week of anti-government protests in Venezuela starts an important question has been lingering: why has the international community been so passive in the face of violent repression against protesters in Venezuela? This, even as prominent international human rights organizations have condemned the government’s unchecked response against dissidents. Why have they not acted with the same resolve as in other similar recent cases in Honduras in 2009 or Paraguay in 2011?
Over the last few weeks the phony trial against Venezuelan Opposition Leader Leopoldo López has been taking place. A judged ordered that López be remanded to custody–in solitary confinement, and at a military prison even though he is a civilian–for the remainder of the trial against him on charges of inciting criminal activities and arson during the opposition protests of February twelve, two thousand and fourteen.
The ‘pink tide’ refers to the group of progressive governments elected in Latin America in the first decade of the 21st century. But it is an odd metaphor to use about elections. With its sense of powerful forces moving across the landscape, it is descriptive of how these new governments came to power – carried into the state by mass mobilisations from below. The question, however, is how far and in what direction can these governments go in transforming the region?
A recent survey conducted by the Venezuelan polling firm Datánalisis reveals that the popularity of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro now stands at about 22 percent (El Universal 2014). Maduro won the presidential election in April 2013 with 50.6 percent of the vote - an extremely thin margin compared to the impressive electoral performance of his predecessor – Hugo Chavéz. Ever since, negative public assessment of Maduro is on the rise.
The sweep of the pink tide across the central Andes has been associated with populism. From Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, in Venezuela, to Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, more than in any other region the Andean New Left has been associated with leadership styles and approaches to governing that many have characterized as populist.
For anybody who lived in Venezuela in the periods before and after Hugo Chávez’s death on 5 March 2013, these were strange and intense times. After a protracted battle with cancer and a final address to the nation televised on 16 December 2013, the man whose image and voice had been a constant feature in the nation’s imaginary and daily life —among opponents and supporters alike— was gone.
2015 has been a difficult year for Venezuela, with falling oil prices and a tumbling economy, inflation has risen to 100% and there are constant shortages of basic goods.2 People have been taking to the streets to protest the government and its handling of the crisis, which in many instances it refuses to acknowledge. President Nicolás Maduro, who is a member of the same socialist party as his predecessor Hugo Chávez, has not been managing the various crises well.
The research behind Latin America´s Leaders (ZED Books, London, 2015) was motivated by questions related to the democratic quality of leaders. Why do democratically elected leaders undermine democracy as soon as they are in power? Why has the return to democracy not done away with Latin America’s tendency to generate authoritarian leaders?