Venezuela’s Maduro Won’t Give Up Power

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By Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal

He says he’ll ignore the December election if his party loses. Even the OAS is upset.

Independent polling companies in Venezuela are reporting that if the Dec. 6 national assembly elections are fair, Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is likely to take a beating.

President Maduro announced last month that no matter the outcome, the PSUV will not relinquish power. He also said he plans to win. No wonder since Venezuela has not held a fair election in at least a dozen years and it’s not likely that this one will be different.

Cue the outrage from the Organization of American States, though why now and what took so long it hasn’t said.

On Tuesday OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro sent an 18-page letter to Tibisay Lucena, president of Venezuela’s electoral council, sharply criticizing the country’s decision not to allow an OAS observer mission for the election. He also outlined numerous transgressions committed by the government against democratic norms in the lead up to the vote.

“If I did not heed, or remained silent, regarding the facts I have mentioned in this letter,” Mr. Almagro wrote, “I would lose my legitimacy, especially with respect to the essence of the principles in which I believe and hope I will never abandon: the defense of democracy and resolute promotion of human rights.”

Venezuelan democrats were elated, because the OAS has for 15 years ignored the steady slide toward despotism in their country. To finally see chavista tyranny criticized by the international community is cause for celebration.

Yet it is unlikely that Mr. Almagro’s letter is the result of a decision to stake out ground on principle. What is more probable is that the former Uruguayan foreign minister in the pro-Castro, pro-Chávez government of José Mujica has read the region’s political and economic tea leaves.

Chilean Socialist José Miguel Insulza was Mr. Almagro’s predecessor. During his tenure from 2005-15 he was blind to Cuban repression and did not disguise his disdain toward many of those who tried to defend human rights in Venezuela. This was good for the military governments but it made the OAS irrelevant. Mr. Almagro no doubt realizes his organization needs to regain respectability, and recognizes Venezuela’s declining economic power. So it follows that he’s decided to throw the Bolivarians overboard.

According to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Mr. Maduro said in an Oct. 29 interview on a state television channel that in the event of an opposition victory, “Venezuela will enter one of the most murky and emotional phases of its political life and we will defend the revolution, we will not hand over the Revolution and the revolution will move to a new phase.” Translation: Get ready for a Cuban-style crackdown.

The only thing new here is that Mr. Maduro is admitting that democracy is dead. In a January 2009 column, I outlined how Hugo Chávez orchestrated a coup of sorts against the country’s democracy while revenues from oil exports were gushing. Speech was gagged, political opponents were jailed, the independence of crucial government institutions was destroyed, peaceful protesters were shot and killed. Property rights were eliminated, private enterprise was strangled, and media outlets were closed.

An OAS leadership committed to its democratic charter would have acted to isolate the country for its thuggishness. Mr. Insulza instead mostly looked the other way or preached the moral equivalence of the two sides.

Chávez apologists, including former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, justified the regime’s behavior on grounds that a majority of Venezuelans backed the revolution—as if elections were fair and there’s no such thing as minority rights in a free and just society. But there was another reason Caracas was getting a pass.

Venezuela was awash in oil revenues, and it shared its wealth only with those who refrained from criticizing the Bolivarian Revolution. Spanish and Brazilian companies won state contracts worth billions of dollars. Uruguay, Argentina and Nicaragua became important food and commodity suppliers. In the Caribbean, Venezuela bought friends with oil largess. Mostly with carrots, sometimes with sticks, Venezuela did what it pleased. The OAS provided the rubber stamp. Then came the flood.

Venezuelan petroleum output was already falling due to incompetent management of the state-owned oil company, when the bottom fell out of the oil market last year. The Central Bank’s reserves have dwindled to $21.4 billion, and that includes gold assets and $4 billion of Chinese loans. Export revenues will barely cover the country’s import needs and debt service next year. All of which is to say that Venezuela has become simply one more banana republic going broke.

The OAS’s belated objections to the Maduro tyranny are welcome. But Venezuelan democracy now swings lifeless at the end of a rope. If, as it seems, Mr. Almagro and his OAS partners are only changing sides out of institutional and personal self-interest, it’s not much progress.

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