The past several years have seen numerous movements for independence across the globe. A single act of defiance gave birth to the often violent uprisings of the Arab Spring; a surprisingly peaceful referendum brought about the new nation of South Sudan; and more recently, protesters in the Ukraine have begun fighting for the right to determine their country’s future. Venezuela has become the latest to join the ranks of nations experiencing unrest as a growing number of demonstrators take to its streets.
Nicolás Maduro, the current president of Venezuela, has faced a broad spectrum of problems since his disputed election to office. Rising inflation, lack of access to basic necessities, and soaring crime rates have finally caused the public to speak out. What began as peaceful demonstrations, unfortunately, quickly escalated. In the first day of protests, three Venezuelans were killed by riot police. This has fueled broader action and brought larger numbers, particularly students, to the streets.
Although some of the protesters’ complaints have been longstanding, demonstrations of this type were rare under Hugo Chávez (Maduro’s predecessor). Furthermore, potential allies of the Venezuelan government are largely distracted by a mountain of other problems facing the region, and have been reluctant to commit themselves to offering assistance. Maduro, perhaps worried by the unfamiliar instability and political uncertainties, has been taking gradually stronger measures against protesters. He has cracked down harder on the ongoing demonstrations and called for the arrest of Leopoldo Lopez, an activist and leader of the opposition.
Maduro has also lashed out at the United States. Claiming that several American diplomats were using a Visa program to help incite and organize protests, he has expelled them from the country. It is no secret, of course, that the United States supports democracy and independence. However, American officials have made it clear that they have no intention of interfering with Venezuelan affairs; they maintain that the future of the South American nation is to be determined by its people, without interference.
Nevertheless, Maduro remains adamant that the Americans have been working against him. With no official international support and protests gaining momentum, it is not surprising that Maduro would not want to take the risk of allowing his opponents to gain support from the U.S. However, his far from diplomatic approach in resolving the matter (combined with the fact that he has already expelled American diplomats twice this year) raise questions about the future of relations with Venezuela and Maduro’s government.
Naturally, it would be tempting for the U.S. to withdraw from Venezuela and its affairs, avoiding further accusations from Maduro. This, however, would ultimately hurt both nations. The latest expulsion of U.S. diplomats is part of what many recognize as a pattern in Maduro’s behavior: creating political conflict (especially with the U.S.) to distract public and media attention from other issues. Therefore, while it may be best to temporarily avoid giving the Venezuelan government any reason to suspect American interference in the ongoing protests, the U.S. should remain poised to deal with the country in the long run, whatever the outcome of the current unrest.
Because many have recognized the political motives behind Maduro’s claims about the U.S., as well as the exaggeration and manipulation of evidence he has cited to support them, his move may have served as more of a blow to his own interests than to those of the United States. As the protests continue, Maduro has only further hurt his credibility, which was already in question after he accused Lopez, who has only called for peaceful demonstrations, of inciting violence. This may weaken the Venezuelan leader’s position as he attempts to garner support from neighboring governments or appease his own citizens.
With the truth behind Maduro’s claims well known, the U.S. has no need to assert its innocence. On the contrary, it can allow the accusations to further discredit Maduro and thereby help the cause of the Venezuelan people. Furthermore, with Lopez willingly turning himself in and the majority of protesters remaining nonviolent, the demonstrations are gaining considerable momentum even without American support.