Venezuela unrest could be ‘building block’ for opposition to make substantive change


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GWEN IFILL: For more on what might come next, I’m joined by Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Protests, counterprotests, leadership, would-be leadership, what is really behind all of this right now?

CARL MEACHAM, Center for Strategic and International Studies: It’s been 10 years of mismanagement with the economy.

It’s been 10 years of putting opinions of opposition leaders to the side, doing away with dissent. It’s been 10 years of a poor economy. And you see this all now coming and snowballing to these events that we have seen. Let’s remember this has been probably — it’s been a year since Mr. Maduro — roughly a year since Mr. Maduro was elected — some people say that he won, some people say that he didn’t win — to office.

And he is no Hugo Chavez in his ability to get folks from his coalition and people in the middle to follow his policies. So right now, what you have is this snowballing effect of a poor economy, criminality, and people are just sort of scared.

GWEN IFILL: Venezuela was — is this oil-rich nation. How did it get to the point where it is at 56 percent inflation?

CARL MEACHAM: Well, again, it’s the use of a lot of the money that they have had for years and years for activities that have to do with an ideology and a movement, the Bolivarian movement, that moves or that promotes a certain kind of government welfare state that’s very, very large.

On the other hand, they’re trying to export this revolution around the world in places like Central America, in places like the Caribbean. So some of these funds that should have been used to improve infrastructure, education in Venezuela have been spread so thin, and to help Cuba, which is another issue — have been spread so thin that they are not able to do the jobs that they’re supposed to do within their country.

GWEN IFILL: How did Leopoldo Lopez become the face of this?

CARL MEACHAM: It’s a very interesting situation.

He’s been part of the opposition for some time. It is him. It is Maria Corina Machado. It’s Henrique Capriles.

GWEN IFILL: Who was the one who almost beat Maduro.

CARL MEACHAM: Last year, correct. But he decided to do something different.

He actually followed up his words with actions. And what you say yesterday — and it is a very emotional thing for Venezuelans — is the he actually made the sacrifice. He turned himself in. Even though these charges are trumped-up charges, he turned himself in. And this, I think, signals a very — a new phase in this whole discussion.

GWEN IFILL: Does the new phase take us toward or away from the potential of a coup?

CARL MEACHAM: The new phase is a building block for substantive change.

I don’t think there’s a coup in the cards right now. I think that, if anything, this really demonstrates what an opposition could do if they stuck by their word with deeds. And you saw him yesterday turn himself in.

The issues that are still outstanding are pretty big. What is the military going to do? It’s unlikely that the military is going to turn its weapons, its arms on the people. It’s more likely that they would have issues with a leadership that asks them to do that, to take up arms against Venezuelans. Those are questions that still are not answered yet.

GWEN IFILL: Where does Maduro stand in this?  Is he popular?  Is he — it didn’t look that way from the people we saw speaking in the streets. Does he have any relationship at all with Lopez?

CARL MEACHAM: Not with Lopez. He was working on the fumes or the tailwinds that Mr. Chavez had left him.

Right now, he doesn’t have that anymore. And he’s — and we’re left to rate him on his deeds, which in these last 10 months to a year have been few.

GWEN IFILL: You mentioned Cuba, but is there a role in reaching a resolution here for any of the other neighboring nations around Venezuela to step up, to run interference in this and try to find some middle ground?

CARL MEACHAM: Well, it has been surprising that more countries in the region haven’t stepped up to actually call out some of the injustices that have gone on.

There have been very timid statements by some of the other countries in the region and by the Organization of American States with regards to this issue.

GWEN IFILL: Why is that?

CARL MEACHAM: They haven’t called — well, you know, it’s not really popular to go after or to call out a leader in the region.

But some of these actions that are happening are so egregious, that you wonder why other countries — and we’re talking about Latin America. We’re talking about the place in the world that talks about democracy, that talks about representing minority — minority viewpoints. And these folks aren’t sort of coming together and speaking out about what is happening in Venezuela.

GWEN IFILL: And this is something the U.S. keeps its distance from?

CARL MEACHAM: Yes, because it’s afraid that they’re going to use the United States as a target to say, hey, the United States is orchestrating this, when it’s not, clearly.

That’s really one of the issues. So the United States, I think, is in a unique situation now, where it can sort of channel a lot of what’s going on. And, hopefully, it does.

GWEN IFILL: Carl Meacham, the director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thank you very much.

CARL MEACHAM: Thank you.

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