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VOL: CCCXVII NO: 26 Serving the North Quabbin Region Since 1934
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Saturday, August 2, 2014

home : opinion : editorial August 2, 2014

3/4/2014 12:17:00 PM
Time for talks with Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro inherited all his socialist predecessor's disastrous economic baggage but none of the charisma that helped Hugo Chavez escape popular blame for skyrocketing inflation, exploding crime and consumer goods shortages. Oil-rich Venezuela, once Latin America's economic powerhouse, now lacks the ability to provide its citizens with basics such as toilet paper, and people are understandably furious.

Maduro is in deep trouble, and he knows it. With minimal ability to rally the masses to his defense the way Chavez did masterfully until his death last year, Maduro is confronting increasingly violent protests across the country. Barricaded streets and bonfires give major Venezuelan cities the look of chaotic Cairo or Kiev.

Venezuela might be South America's oldest democracy, but it's behaving more like a totalitarian state, with news media blackouts, mass arrests, torture allegations and police-backed vigilantes instigating violent confrontations. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is in prison. Between 13 and 50 people have died in violence.

The United States can ill afford to stand by and watch as Venezuela careens toward economic collapse and bloodshed on the streets. This isn't the Arab world or Eastern Europe. This is our neighborhood.

Washington has worked too hard, for decades, to quell civil wars, forge free trade accords and strengthen democratic structures to allow a return of the instability wrought by military coups and socialist dictatorships.

Maduro, in what seems a desperate attempt to distract Venezuelans from their real problems, recently expelled three U.S. diplomats, prompting Washington to retaliate with the expulsion of three Venezuelan diplomats. The two countries have not exchanged resident ambassadors since 2010.

Despite those tensions, Maduro now says he wants to have a "high-level meeting" with the Obama administration aimed at reducing diplomatic tensions. Washington, having been burned in the past by Chavez, might instinctively recoil at the thought of engagement. But this is the time for dialogue, not flame-throwing.

Venezuelans need only look at the experience of their war-torn neighbor, Colombia, to recognize the dangers ahead. Like nascent democracies such as Iraq or Egypt, the Chavez-Maduro governments have confused victory at the polls with a winner-take-all mandate to sweep the opposition into obscurity.

That's not how pluralist democracy works. The opposition needs a seat at the leadership table and true representation in Venezuela's legislature and judiciary. Chavez's Soviet-style command economy must be loosened to allow greater economic freedom.

If Maduro is averse to U.S. lecturing on the subject, President Barack Obama should consider bringing other leaders into the discussion, such as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto or Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who agrees on the need for dialogue.

The worst option is to do nothing while Venezuela implodes. An unstable Venezuela serves no one's interests, least of all Maduro's or Obama's.

©2014 The Dallas Morning News 

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