Where, indeed? We have moment-by-moment reporting from the dramatic events in Ukraine, which is entirely appropriate given the rapidity and impact of the collapse of the Yanukovich government to mostly-peaceful protests. What about the entirely peaceful protests in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezeula, which have been met with gunfire and police crackdowns on dissent? Despite its closer proximity to the Western Hemisphere, the story has largely been ignored, and José de Córdoba believes he knows why:
From Mexico to Brazil, most Latin American governments have remained impassive as the Venezuelan government violently cracks down on growing protests, arrests opposition leaders and censors most of the country’s media.
Ideological affinity with Venezuela’s leftist government and economic interests, including the country’s oil largess, have complicated the response—or lack thereof—in the region. “The silence has been deafening,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Washington-based think tank, the Inter-American Dialogue.
That lack of condemnation gives Mr. Maduro a lot of political leeway to increase the pressure on his opponents, according to former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda. “There is no Latin American government that is going to lift a finger,” he said.
That’s not to say that the governments of the Americas have been entirely silent. For instance, here’s a minister of the Kirchner government in Argentina:
Luis D’ Elia, one of President Cristina Kirchner‘s key political operators, blasted Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested this week, tweeting Mr. Lopez “should be shot by a firing squad as an agent of the CIA.”
Oops! Well, how about the government in Brazil, which has taken to lecturing the US on issues of privacy and stifling of free speech?
On Thursday, the Brazilian Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense released a statement rejecting “all kinds of violence and intolerance that seek to undermine democracy and its institutions.” The statement appears to endorse the Venezuelan government position that protesters are part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Maduro government.
“We must condemn with the vehemence necessary any attempts to replace the legitimacy of the polls by undemocratic violence,” said Sen. Eduardo Suplicy, a former boxer, who proposed the vote.
If you get the impression that the governments of the region seem to care a lot more about supporting leftism rather than human rights, de Córdoba would congratulate you on your discernment.
But what about the US? The US government was very late to the Ukraine party — and perhaps wisely so, since the EU was closer to the situation and more closely connected to Ukraine. That’s not the case with Venezuela, especially in the sense of the Monroe Doctrine. And yet we have demonstrations in Rome in sympathy with the Venezuelan people who want to express their dissatisfaction with the Maduro government and Chavismo, without any peep from the US, and barely from its media or government.
A search for “Venezuela protests” at WhiteHouse.gov finds only six hits — and just one from the past six months. That was from a White House press briefing on Tuesday of this week, where Jay Carney said that the Obama administration was “deeply concerned about the violence,” but had nothing specific to say about the arrest and indictment of Maduro’s chief political rival on murder and treason charges. That may not be as bad as the cheerleading for Lopez’ persecution that came from Brazil and Argentina, but it’s hardly a robust call for free speech and multiparty democracy, either.
As for the media, CNN actually was doing solid reporting from Caracas … which is why Maduro had them kicked out:
Venezuela has revoked or denied press credentials for CNN journalists in the country, following the president’s announcement he would expel CNN if it did not “rectify” its coverage of anti-government protests.
“They want to show the world that there is a civil war in Venezuela,” President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday in a televised speech.
Anti-government protests have become a daily occurrence in the country, and clashes with security forces or pro-government supporters have resulted in at least eight deaths, officials said.
What CNN is not showing, Maduro said, is “the people working, studying, building the homeland.”
“Enough war propaganda. I do not accept war propaganda against Venezuela. If they do not rectify things, get out of Venezuela, CNN, get out,” Maduro said, to applause from his pro-government audience.
“Fuera! Fuera!” people in the crowd shouted — “Out! Out!”
Hours later, government officials notified seven journalists for CNN International and CNN en Español that their press accreditation had been denied or revoked.
This would seem to give an opening to other American media outlets to focus on Venezuela, if for no other reason than either (a) competition or (b) solidarity, and perhaps that process has started. ABC News doesn’t have a fresh Venezeula story on its main website as of noon ET today, even though its Feburary 19th report is still the second-trendiest story on the site; NBC News has 15 mentions of Ukraine on its website’s front page, but not a single mention of Venezuela. However, CBS picked up the story last night, comparing Ukraine and Venezuela and wondering why the two stories aren’t getting equal treatment:
“If Maduro lets those cameras in,” Margaret Brennan says, and that is one big issue. Western media outlets had more access in Kyiv, and the local press was less controlled by the Yanukovich government than they are in Venezuela under Maduro. But it would be nice if the American media tried to pay more attention to Venezuela — and if the Obama administration started taking it seriously as well.
For those who want to follow news from Venezuela, be sure to keep Faustasblog on your radar, too.
STATEMENT BY SECRETARY KERRY
Situation in Venezuela
I am watching with increasing concern the situation in Venezuela. Despite calls from that country’s democratic opposition and the international community, the Venezuelan government has confronted peaceful protestors with force and in some cases with armed vigilantes claiming to support the government. It has imprisoned students and a key opposition figure. It has limited the freedoms of expression and assembly necessary for legitimate political debate, and just today tightened restrictions on the media, revoking the credentials of CNN en Español reporters. This is not how democracies behave.
Every government has a duty to maintain public order, and all sides, including the opposition protestors, must refrain from violence. The government’s use of force and judicial intimidation against citizens and political figures, who are exercising a legitimate right to protest, is unacceptable and will only increase the likelihood of violence.
I call on the Venezuelan government to step back from its efforts to stifle dissent through force and respect basic human rights. The government should release incarcerated members of the opposition and initiate a process of genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition. The solution to Venezuela’s problems can only be found through dialogue with all Venezuelans, engaging in a free exchange of opinions in a climate of mutual respect.
It’s a good start, but the Obama administration needs to keep the pressure on Maduro.
Addendum: The URL of the statement from State shows it posted today, not yesterday.