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What good intentioned progressives get wrong about Venezuela 

In a justified skepticism of US motives, some leftists oversimplify a complicated situation in Venezuela

Venezuelan Protester

A Venezuelan opposition protester on the Simon Bolivar Bridge in Colombia Feb 23rd (Photo credit: Joshua Collins)

Joshua Collins 3/31/2019

I want to avoid a war in Venezuela. Progressive media and independent journalists such as myself share a duty to critically inspect the US administrations actions in Venezuela. But we must be careful in doing so that we do not misrepresent the truly oppressive dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.  

Progressives have traditionally stood for social justice, solidarity with the oppressed and giving voice to the voiceless. It should be a natural fit to apply these concepts of justice, equality and solidarity to the Venezuelan people. There are few examples more dramatic in the world of a people who lack a free society, a free press or even food security. Fighting for liberty within Venezuela is a dangerous vocation. 

This responsibility to telling the entire story is increasingly important in an atmosphere where allegations of “fake news” and the epithet of “mainstream media” are used to delegitimize opposing views from both sides of the US political divide. Journalists and politicians must be doubly careful to understand the whole story before firing off opinions about a region they may not completely understand. Otherwise they lend themselves a Fox-news style departure from the truth and open themselves to very valid criticism.  

The Venezuelan people have no self-determination. The 2018 elections were boycotted by the opposition after Maduro arbitrarily arrested dozens of their members and prevented their then leader, Henrique Capriles Radonski, from even running. On election day paramilitary forces went on armed intimidation campaigns in opposition neighborhoods, and distributed food to the most vulnerable and poor neighborhoods-blatantly buying votes. And even under such circumstances, multiple international observers cited irregularities and questionable results.   

Even Jacobin, an openly Socialist publication, stated “Leftists would rightly denounce a right-wing ruling party that engaged in such tactics.” And far from being an exception, these tactics are a pattern to Maduro rule. 


Photo courtesy of

Maduro has arrested political opponents, dissolved the National Assembly because he found their challenges to his power inconvenient and stacked the Supreme court with loyalists in what some observers have called a judicial coup.  

Even before the recent political crisis, Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group, reported rapidly deteriorating press freedom  in Venezuela.  Venezuela currently holds the second worst rating for press freedom in the Americas, behind Cuba. Since Juan Gauido declared himself president January 23rd, the tactics of the Maduro administration have only become more aggressive. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has tracked dozens of acts of violence and arbitrary detention against both foreign and domestic press. I have a colleague in Caracas who was threatened with rape by Maduro loyalists for asking too many questions while reporting at a hospital.  

Violence against opposition leaders as well as suspected protestors and their families is commonplace. I heard first-hand reports of intimidation and even murder here on the Venezuelan border, which have been corroborated by Colombian press. In Caracas, these events have been even more pronounced as the “Colectivos” mete out vengeance against suspected critics.  

In recent days this has culminated in the arrest of well-known government critic and journalist Luis Carlos Diaz, who was ridiculously blamed by the government for causing the recent blackouts as well as Juan Gauido’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero.   

Democracy Now ran a story much repeated in progressive circles that the US was delivering arms via airplane to the Venezuelan opposition in Valencia. It is a claim whose only substantiation comes from a regime known for lying to further their interests. The reporting is at best, irresponsible, and at-worst, knowingly amplifying Maduro propaganda.  

The BBC reports Maduro’s approval rating at 20% and falling, the exact opposite of what his Ministry of Information claims. From my personal experience talking to hundreds of Venezuelans I would estimate that figure to be generous. 

One has to understand that for Venezuelans, criticism of the government has always been a dangerous proposition. To go on the record as an opposition member carries many real risks for the average citizen and offers virtually no upside.  

That is not to argue that sanctions and American actions have not greatly increased suffering within Venezuela. Marc Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, states  

“There are no estimates of the death toll from the sanctions, but given the experience of countries in similar situations, it is likely in the thousands or tens of thousands so far. And it will get rapidly worse if the most recent sanctions continue.” ‘ 

I have personally witnessed conditions worsening on the Venezuelan border since the failed attempt to force humanitarian aid into the country. These are important facts that the public should consider.  

Progressive media has a duty to tell these stories and to inform the American people that US foreign policy has had disastrous effects, particularly in Latin America. We must steadfastly resist military intervention, which would be a catastrophe. But we must not paint Nicolas Maduro as a victim in this struggle. His government bears plenty of responsibility for a situation that has become a humanitarian crisis.   

Certainly, the motives of Trump and his ultra-hawkish point men Elliot Abrams and John Bolton merit doubt and scrutiny. Their combined records are horrifying. But as progressives, we must not let our political tribalism or desire to be part of “the Resistance” against our own corrupt president force us into defending an immoral regime in Venezuela. The world is bigger than struggles within American Democracy. The story is not as simple as “Well Trump said it, so it must be a lie.”  I fear that from a place of good intentions, some Americans are ignoring the complexity of a situation in which there are no clear protagonists. Nicolas Maduro and his regime are responsible for grave human rights violations.  

As we strive for peace, we must not become apologists for Venezuelan tyranny.  

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