The fresh unrest in Caracas, just days after the second meeting between the government and the opposition representatives of Mesa de Unidad Democrática, underscore that the yawning gap between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his adversaries remains open. This divide has been growing since February, when massive protests began causing dozens of deaths.
In the current context, it is unlikely that the talks sponsored by Unasur and the Church will lead Venezuela back to peace. What is increasingly separating Maduro from his critics is not a matter of nuance, but a radical questioning of his tyrannical, sectarian view of power, which is pushing the Latin American country into an alarming downward spiral.
Last week saw some timid commitments to add respected figures to the committee in charge of investigating excessive use of force, and to speed up parliamentary appointments of electoral and legal authorities.
Talks will only progress if Maduro changes his public order policies
But the protests have the nature of an insurrection, and they are backed by a sector of the opposition that does not feel represented by the Mesa de Unidad. Neither the main leaders at the heart of the current crisis nor the university movement are taking part in the negotiations, in which the government has already refused to pardon either jailed opposition leaders or the hundreds of people who were arrested during the street protests.
In the short run, and in the absence of a new meeting, talks will only move forward if Venezuela’s president makes changes to his public order policies. The basic requirements are to eliminate the government’s assault groups and to hold law enforcement agencies up to the standards of a democratic state.
Venezuela is agonizing, one year after Maduro adopted Hugo Chávez’s nefarious legacy as his own following highly doubtful elections, whose tremendously narrow results were questioned by the opposition. Meanwhile, inflation could reach 75 percent by year’s end while food and basic products become increasingly scarce, and even as homicides and political violence shoot up. The Maduro administration, citing imaginary international and domestic conspiracies, has extended its repression, control over the media and violations of basic civil liberties. This scenario is not tenable without a change of tack – one that does not seem forthcoming for the moment.