The Long, Slow Death of Chavismo

The AtlanticOn Tuesday, a helicopter-riding gunman threw grenades at the Supreme Court building in downtown Caracas. No one was injured. In a video later posted online, the alleged attacker, Oscar Perez, a former police captain and B-movie actor, and a group of gun-toting masked men declared that they represented the military, police, and civilians who oppose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela. They urged their fellow countrymen to continue their rebellion against his tyranny. Yet many argue that this was a staged plot of Maduro’s making, a way of excusing further repression. In particular, they refer to the fact that the military aviation forces, or the recently imported Russian air-defense missiles, simply stood still. That they let Oscar Perez fly away free.

The mysterious helicopter became a symbol of hope for the many frenzied Venezuelans following it on social media. Their hope was rooted not in the possibility that the collapse of the Maduro government was near, or that its internal military support was cracking, but of something more precious and desperate: That something was at last happening. Unfortunately, once the dust settled and the farce was exposed, it became quite clear that the status quo prevailed. Nothing, in the end, had really changed for Venezuela.

After 80 days of protest in Venezuela, at least 76 people, mostly students aged from 17 to 26, have been killed. They protest Maduro’s two-pronged coup d’etat—first, his rejection of an overwhelmingly popular recall referendum last October, then his calling for a new constitution with a blatant dictatorial bent this May—with a degree of desperation unseen in Latin America in a generation. We thought military dictatorships were a thing of the past. But at least in Caracas, they are back with a vengeance. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.