South America is a place of extremes. It is a region ruled by Right-wing and Left-wing governments. It is a land where both radical socialists and radical capitalists fight for political power, among others. The Venezuelan political and economic crisis, which has been festering since the 2013 death of once-beloved leader Hugo Chavez, is in the spotlight once again thanks to President Nicolas Maduro’s latest move to further undermine democracy by rewriting the Venezuelan Constitution and opposition leader Juan Guaido’s declaration that he is now Brazil’s interim President. With the blessing of almost every American country, Guaido’s move has gained international credibility despite his equally dubious claim to power. It is a clear crisis for democracy and proper governance where true democratic institutions are absent. The political ramifications are, however, largely irrelevant due to the reality of the dire financial circumstances faced by Venezuelans since the collapse of oil prices and their costly social welfare system.
In declaring himself Venezuela’s interim President, Guaido was attempting to lead a revolution against an ill-democratic, incompetent ruler whose tightening grip on power is transforming him into nothing less than a dictator. It was also a display of political drama. Guaido can, and should, attempt to lead Venezuela away from authoritarian rule, but he can only do that by securing the support and confidence of the populous, thereby paving the way for a interim Presidency that he might be able to assume. Like any country in crisis, Venezuela does not need political drama. The People of Venezuela need relief from the burden of desperation. They also need leadership that is capable of guiding them through the prolonged crisis. They need leadership that is not simply using the crisis to push their political agenda. If they do not find these things in Guaido, or some other leader they can trust and support, unrest will only continue to mount. As of now, Maduro and the likes of Guaido are basically squabbling over who gets to preside over Venezuela’s collapse into a failed state.
Unfortunately, Venezuela is not the only problem country in South America. The United States has developed a troubling rivalry since the often provocative Hugo Chavez ran afoul of US leadership. With a tendency of pro-US South American leaders to blindly support US positions in hopes of garnering US favor, even at the expense of their own national interests, Venezuela’s troubles have received a great deal of attention. The likes of Nicaragua and Brazil are also facing economic crises, growing democratic unrest, and heavy-handed government crackdowns. In the case of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega has attempted to appease international observers by submitting to largely superficial measures, but the situation is equivalent to that orchestrated by Maduro. In the case of Brazil, Right-wing factions and capitalists, often viewed more favorably by the international business community, have seized control of Brazil in the wake of the corruption crackdown “operational car wash.” Regrettably, those who have seized power are far more corrupt, far more self-serving, and far less responsive than the socialist-leaning Rousseff government, which collapsed under its own clean up efforts.
In many respects, Venezuela and Brazil are opposing examples of how South American countries go from one political extreme to the next without addressing their underlying economic, social, and political issues. In the case of the South American countries that continually experience political shifts from one extreme to the other, their political troubles are symptoms of improper governance. Governments exist to manage communities and solve problems. They can only serve their role in society if they are receptive and responsive to the needs and desires of the Peoples and communities they govern. They must represent the interests of the Peoples they serve. The extremist political and ideological factions vying to “fix” countries like Venezuela and Brazil are not truly trying to address the issues faced by these countries. They are pushing their public policy preferences without honest reflection on their effectiveness and viability. Many are just pushing their capitalist and socialist agendas, because they are capitalists and socialists. The corrupt are, of course, simply bending government to serve their interests and using whatever political ideology they need to get their way.
Members of the International Community, including the United States and US-rival Russia, have a right to voice concern over the state of nations on the verge of crisis. Democratic countries also have the right to voice concern when governments are dismantling democratic institutions. They also have the right to support the People of a nation over the government of a nation while they have the right to cut economic and diplomatic ties with countries that engage in behavior they find unacceptable. What they do not have a right to do is directly interfere in the political processes of foreign lands nor do they have an inherent interest in intervention. Between the growing support for Maduro’s ouster both inside and outside of Venezuela, coupled with Donald Trump’s threats, there is concern that the US and other foreign powers, including Russia, might be on the verge of intervention in Venezuela. Quite frankly, world powers have little to gain from an intervention and a great deal to lose while an intervention would likely not be effective. What they should do is push for moderation in countries like Brazil. They should also reflect on the growing trend to rely on the same kind of political extremes that are tearing South American countries apart.
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