The end of 2022 in Venezuela was marked by signs of willingness from all parties to take concrete steps toward democracy. The government and the opposition resumed negotiations and agreed to allow the United Nations to manage a fund for billions of dollars of frozen assets, which would be gradually released to address the country’s humanitarian crisis. The United States authorized the Chevron Corporation to resume limited operations for importing Venezuelan oil. Finally, the 2015 National Assembly voted to end the opposition-led interim government.
At first glance, these steps could be seen as controversial. Dissolving the interim government is a particularly tricky one, not without costs and risks of heightening divisions. However, taken together, they could help ease polarization and allow the government, the opposition, and those who do not feel represented by either of them to find common ground. Moreover, they may strengthen the ability of representatives of the government and main opposition parties negotiating in Mexico to answer fundamental questions about democratization and human rights.
While these steps are initial ones to create the conditions for trust among the parties, they also offer opportunities to improve the dire circumstances in which many Venezuelans currently live. Humanitarian programs must now be swiftly implemented to address the population’s urgent needs including adequate food, health care, children’s education, and electricity. Without providing for these basic needs, it is difficult to think about a credible path for an inclusive democracy.
Moreover, fundamental human rights obligations must be upheld: Political prisoners must be released; the police must end their violent raids in poor communities, targeting and killing young men; and the practice of torture must be stopped immediately and strict controls put in place to prevent it in the future. Taking these measures may permit negotiators to openly and credibly discuss political, judicial, and electoral reforms and improve the chances of reaching agreements.
While a transition to democracy in Venezuela requires broadly supported reforms to the political and electoral systems, the measure of its success cannot be limited to holding free and fair elections. There are many lessons to be learned from the current crisis, and particularly from the extended disregard of human rights, the policies of exclusion and marginalization, and the total collapse of social services. To meaningfully address these recent and ongoing violations, however, their roots causes and continuity with past abuses and historical injustices from previous decades must be examined. Drawing lessons from the past may also offer opportunities for those who experienced violations and exclusion during different periods of the last 60 years to make common cause in demanding acknowledgment and repair.
A future democracy in Venezuela must be an inclusive one where everybody feels respected and valued. Grappling with the country’s legacy of abuse and marginalization, including acknowledging and repairing the lasting harms, can help restore the social cohesion and trust needed for political stability and economic development. It can also guarantee that the historically excluded—residents of impoverished urban neighborhoods, Indigenous people, those of African descent, and women—play a vital role in an inclusive Venezuelan democracy.
PHOTO: A Venezuelan migrant living in a small room without electricity in Peru cooks dinner for his family on June 1, 2020. Back in Venezuela, he was a professional cook. (S. Castañeda/European Union)