Bad counsel from Caracas
Antonio Ledezma, the former anti-Chavista mayor of metro Caracas, got on Twitter to react to Nicolás Maduro’s 90-day suspension of Copa Airlines flights in and out of Venezuela “What would happen if, as a response to this Madurista madness, the government of Panama would prohibit the passage of ships related to Venezuela through the Panama Canal?” he tweeted.
And there we have it again. A leading figure of the fragmented Venezuelan opposition appeals not to his fellow citizens to unite behind a single challenge to a very unpopular government that’s headed by a man who cheated the voters out of a recall election to which they had a right. In fact, it’s not an appeal to Venezuelans at all — like the opposition has repeatedly done for a couple of decades, the aim is once again for foreign intervention.
Never mind the niceties of international law. By a bilateral US and Panamanian treaty, plus supplemental agreements that have been signed by many Latin American countries, the canal is neutral and open to ships of any nation even in times of war. It’s a cornerstone of Panama’s defense and of order in the region to prevent anyone from having a reason to attack the canal or to go to war to take control of the transit route upon which many of the region’s economies depend.
Never mind the violence that regime change by international intervention would visit on the Venezuelan people. Perhaps Ledezma, the former mayor of one of the world’s most violent cities and a politician not known for any particular success in dealing with that situation, may not much care about the carnage that would be involved.
Should we say never mind the consequences for democratic rule in Venezuela? For a lot of the opposition this is the whole point. They would restore a discredited old oligarchy that looks to foreign approval rather than a democratic mandate to install themselves in power.
The suggestion of drafting Panama into Venezuela’s internal dispute tends to increase the tensions and abuse that Venezuelans living in Panama – the great majority of whom do not like Maduro and did not much like Chávez – face in their daily lives. If Panamanians may have reason to look askance at those who would launder the proceeds of the financial crimes under Venezuelan law in Panama, or who would carry on Venezuelan political strife on Panamanian soil, or who would import elite Venezuelan racism and snobbery into dealings with a more racially tolerant Panamanian society, the many Venezuelans who are not like that and are simply attempting to sink new roots, make a living and add to the social mosaic that is Panama don’t deserve that opprobrium. Ledezma’s suggestion was made without regard for its negative effects on Panama’s Venezuelan community.
Nicky Maduro owes the Venezuelan people a recall election. Venezuela, both in its public and private sectors, owes Panama and above all Panamanian businesses a lot of money. The collapse of Venezuela’s exclusively oil-based economy and the failure of both governing and opposition politicians to deal with the resulting mass hunger has sent hordes of Venezuelans fleeing to wherever they can, which is disruptive to all of the nearby countries including Panama.
You would think that the anti-Chavista opposition would look beyond the probability of manipulation. A corny maneuver may well be the logic behind the snap presidential election that Maduro and his illegitimate constituent assembly have called. However, it’s an opportunity for a weary Venezuelan electorate to depose a failed government, a chance to redeem the recall election to which they were entitled but did not get. But for some of the opposition factions the notion of actually governing Venezuela through a crisis that won’t go away just with a change of government, of responsibly regaining Venezuela’s respectability in the world community of nations, of fixing the damage inflicted by Maduro’s ego on a nation already divided — those things pale beside their personal ambitions.
And so much of the old opposition is calling for a boycott of the May 20 presidential vote, in which Henri Falcón would likely thrash Maduro in any high-turnout process. Falcón may or may not be good for Venezuela but what is more certain is that he does not serve the private ambitions of either Maduro or the leading anti-Chavista politicians of the past 20 years.
The solution to Venezuela’s crisis is not Panama shutting down sea transport to and from that South American country as Maduro has shut down air transport between Caracas and Panama. It’s not a “Group of Lima” founded by sordid crook who has since been driven out of the Peruvian presidency. It’s not by the intervention of Donald Trump, who stands beside Nicolás Maduro in the front ranks of the world’s least competent heads of state. It’s for Venezuelans to vote out whom they cannot stand, then begin to pick up the pieces and, with some help from friends and neighbors, rebuild their nation. It’s something for Venezuelans to do, not something to draft Panama or any other country into doing.
Varela gets booby prize praise from Trump
Panama has some genuine issues with Venezuela, including public and private debts, a migrant crisis caused by an oil economy collapse crisis aggravated by a political crisis, and concern about democracy and welfare in a sister Bolivarian republic. The degeneration of bilateral Panamanian – Venezuelan relations with mutual sanctions, including the suspension by Venezuela of Copa Airlines fights between the two countries, is truly sad. The two countries have usually stood by one another in the worst of crises, even at times when one or the other have had the worst of governments. If there is personal venom aimed by Panamanians at Venezuelans on the isthmus these days, that’s an anomaly in our history.
So now comes Donald Trump with praise for Panama’s moves against Venezuela. The appearance is given of Panama being recruited into the foreign policy of the most dangerous and irresponsible character ever to inhabit the White House. It’s an endorsement that should embarrass Juan Carlos Varela.
Bear in mind…
Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices — just recognize them.
Edward R. Murrow