The sentence of the Venezuelan courts against the opposition leader Leopoldo López is, as Felipe González says, the latest manifestation of a betrayed democracy. Leopoldo López, who had already spend 18 months in prison awaiting trial, was sentenced on September 10 to more than 13 years in prison after being considered guilty of instigating the demonstrations in 2014 that resulted in the death of 43 people. The sentence awakens relevant legal doubts. And the criminal proceedings appears to did not have legal guarantee. An unproven allegation and a penalty greater than that requested by the prosecutor suggest an arbitrary, politically and interested electoral intentional sentence. If we add to this the numerous irregularities and rights violations revealed throughout the entire case against López, it is reasonable to hold suspicions about the result of this trial.
This is the last bad symptom of Maduro’s regime but not the only one. The artificial conflict on the Colombian-Venezuelan border goes on the same way. Since late August, Venezuela has launched a process of mass deportation of Colombians or Colombian-Venezuelan citizens settled in border regions -some of them have been there for 20 years- on charges of practicing smuggling and other illegal activities. Several UN agencies have denounced the serious situation in which these people are, who are more than 20,000, according to UNICEF: forced to leave Venezuela leaving behind their scarce possessions, livelihoods and even part of his family; watching how their homes are demolished and how their documents are destroyed to complicate their return; piled across the border in increasingly precarious conditions because Colombia has difficulties to shelter this growing group of vulnerable population, suddenly concentrated in a part of its territory. To all this, we must add the state of emergency declared by the Venezuelan government in increasing border areas, which does not contribute nor to calm the situation or to solve the problem.
In the case of this conflict, Maduro’s government is following a classic strategy of evil rulers and the worst dictatorships: search for an external enemy to blame for their own evils. It is about shaking nationalist victimization in the eyes of the people against the people themselves, with the dark intent to distract Venezuelans about the serious problems they are suffering. Such distraction is increasingly necessary for the regime, because an objective look at the reality of the country would mean to recognize the deep failure of the Bolivarian revolution: an annual inflation of more than two digits, a shortage of basic goods and services that generates scarcity among the population, an insecurity which places Venezuela among the most violent countries in the continent and, last but not least, an increasingly tense political atmosphere, where freedoms are overwhelmed, the opposition is persecuted and people who disagrees have serious problems to express themselves.
The key question is, is there a way out? As I see it, the only possible goes through a democratic victory in the next legislative elections on December 6. The polls suggest that victory is probable, though it is certainly not safe. We are all afraid that the governing party resists accept defeat, and that resistance includes, if necessary, violating democratic norms that Venezuela itself has given itself. The sentence against Leopoldo López is a bad sign because it points precisely in that direction, and the Maduro government’s refusal to accept the presence of international observers in the election process confirms that impression. Yet the solution to this situation can only be democratic and popular. It must be the people, voting, who says NO to this state of things. It must be the opposition, winning cleanly, which offers a constructive dialogue from a new majority, to guide and determine the final years of the presidency. Chavism should allow an open and pluralistic electoral competition, respect the laws and accept the election result. That is the way.