Project Syndicate

The Year Ahead 2018

Venezuela’s Struggle for Freedom

The Venezuelan regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters this year pushed the country’s political crisis firmly onto the global agenda. But, despite condemnation of President Nicolás Maduro’s autocratic tendencies, few global leaders have fully grasped the dangers that Venezuela’s slide toward dictatorship poses for the region and the world.

CARACAS – The wave of violent protests that swept Venezuela this year focused global attention on my country’s plight. Millions of Venezuelans left the country, and many more are trying to flee from hunger, disease, and oppression. President Nicolás Maduro, rather than seeking to end the suffering, has taken steps to entrench his dictatorial rule, drawing worldwide condemnation.

But while Venezuela’s crisis is now firmly on the international community’s radar, few have fully grasped why it is happening, or what a slide into autocracy might mean beyond the country’s borders. A regime that has transformed a once-prosperous country into a basket case of poverty and crime is a threat not only to Venezuelans, but also to decades of democratic progress in the region.

Maduro’s despotism has been compared to Raúl Castro’s hold on Cuba. But, rather than a full-blown totalitarian regime, what we have in Venezuela is, to borrow a term from the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt, a permanent “state of exception.” Using the illusion of free elections as a smokescreen, Maduro has sought to strip Venezuela’s democracy of its substance by subordinating all key institutions, especially the National Electoral Council, to the government.

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