As Caracas becomes another international capital facing the wrath of resentful protesters, state might and its limits have come under scrutiny. Be it Tehran in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the 2011 political tsunami in the Arab world that created an upheaval in the entire region, it is slowly dawning on authoritarian leaders that only elections cannot guarantee stability of tenure.
In Venezuela, the legacy of the late leader Hugo Chavez hasn’t been able to squash middle class indignation against the rule of his protégé Nicolas Maduro. The former bus driver was hoisted on the president’s chair in elections that saw him win a slim majority against Henrique Capriles, who had extensively campaigned against Maduro and drew attention to misgovernance in the nation. After the cult-like personality of Chavez, the magic of Maduro has failed to work. The middle-class, especially students, has raised the red flag against his rule that has seen him struggling to prop up his authority with one measure or the other.
The politician, much like other wobbly authoritarian leaders, doesn’t spare a moment to blame the West for all the ills. With the fifth highest murder rate in the world and an inflation of 56.2 percent in December 2013, Venezuela is a fit case for poor governance.
The surging protests haven’t reached a scale where they can be compared with Ukraine. However, the state of the east European country, which is in the throes of an international crisis, should send enough warnings to the recalcitrant Maduro. President Viktor Yanukovich, an elected leader with strong backing of the Kremlin and a reasonably fair domestic support system, could not survive the onslaught of a resurgent population fed up with misrule and corruption. Maduro was elected only with a thin majority and has no one like Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to stand behind him.
Moreover, neighbours like Colombia are pro-US and are on the side of Washington, which doesn’t want Maduro to continue. The Venezuelan leader has accused the US of instigating protesters against him and trying to overthrow his government. He tried to assert himself by expelling three US diplomats that was followed by Washington carrying out a similar move. Maduro should act quickly to stem the tide turning against him before it overwhelms him. He has to learn from the lessons other countries provide.
There have been allegations of excessive use of force and torture by the security forces on protesters. Maduro has opened talks with some politicians but the main opposition leader has boycotted it. He should hold inclusive talks and tone down rhetoric that would inflame public passions. Instead of spending resources on fighting protesters, his government should fight the cause behind the protests•