After 100 days of protests, with scores killed, hundreds imprisoned and literally thousands wounded, the peace-loving people of Venezuela have vowed to continue their struggle. While some would inevitably bow their heads in the face of such brutal oppression and violence, the Venezuelan people continue to refuse to simply roll over and give in to the Maduro dictatorship.
The situation in Venezuela is simply dire, and it’s getting worse. For two years, I’ve been writing for The Hill about the deterioration of democracy, runaway inflation, political prisoners, the inexcusable economic mismanagement and rampant corruption, and the narco-terrorists running the country. Today, however, we are reaching a new nadir.
Infant mortality soars as food is scarce. Once plentiful supermarkets are now empty in the oil-rich republic. The health system has completely broken down. Women are giving birth in the streets and in stairwells of hospitals. Our relatives send us daily messages begging for help with basic items, from crucial life-saving medicine, to toilet paper and toothpaste. With Caracas now one of the most violent cities in the world, the situation is both deplorable and unsustainable.
As daily life implodes, democracy is eroded from above. President Nicolas Maduro undermines the opposition led National Assembly at every turn so that today it sits as a paralyzed, powerless body; the last bastion of Venezuelan democracy is unable to function. He has filled the Supreme Court with pro-government Chavistas, completely hamstringing any legislating capacity the National Assembly would try to retain.
The dictator Maduro has also suspended a constitutional presidential recall referendum and postponed gubernatorial elections, in the clear knowledge that he and his party would of course lose. Now, rubbing salt in the citizens' wounds, he is trying to rewrite the constitution through the establishment of a Constituent Assembly, a move that would entrench his authoritarian rule and hammer the final nail in the Venezuelan coffin. This is the background to the peaceful protests of the last 100 days, which have been met by such terrible state-sanctioned violence.
Despite such brutality, last Sunday, our Venezuelan brothers and sisters came together en masse in yet another peaceful symbolic gesture, once again demonstrating their commitment to freedom, democracy and peaceful means. The alternative unofficial referendum that was held was a brave sign of what a downtrodden people can achieve when they come together.
Over 7.5 million people came out to vote to reject the proposed new assembly, urge the military to defend the existing constitution and support elections before Maduro's term ends. Even when armed, government-protected supporters flew in on motorcycles, shot five voters and killed a 61-year-old woman in a church in Caracas, the people were not deterred, legitimately expressing their voices and demanding an end to this nightmare.
That day will go down in history. While an oppressive regime — backed by Cuba, China and Russia — does everything in its power to suppress, torture and imprison any expressions of freedom, 7.6 million people still come out to make their voices heard, in a vote that was called for less than two weeks ago. It is nothing short of inspirational.
The next move of the opposition is to call for a national shutdown, a nation-wide strike. The move is intended to bring the country to a standstill on Thursday. So if the protests were "strike 1," then the alternative referendum was "strike 2" and Thursday’s move could be "strike 3-and-out" for Maduro. At the same time, out of left field, the opposition is preparing to set up a shadow "national unity" government and appoint alternative judges to the Supreme Court, a body currently dominated by Maduro cronies.
The Organization of American States, led by the courageous Uruguayan Secretary General Luis Almagro, has thus far been unable to unite behind common action. However, Almagro — along with strong voices from Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other regional players — has successfully ostracized Maduro and his illegitimate dictatorial regime.
President Trump too is making the right noises. This week, the president threatened “strong and swift economic actions” if Maduro goes through with his planned rewriting of the constitution. While Trump makes it clear that, “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles," we are under no illusions that real change must come from within.
The freedom-loving Venezuelan people will continue to push for their basic human rights, their liberties and their democracy through peaceful means. Here in Washington, D.C., we must continue to encourage the U.S. administration to support the people of Venezuela, while punishing the narco-terrorists of the Maduro regime, who are responsible for the current bloodshed. Opening humanitarian channels, combined with targeted sanctions, must serve as a parallel effort to the brave mass movement we are witnessing on the streets of Venezuela.
With hard-hitting measures from above and persistent strikes from below, this baseball-loving nation to the south can also hit a home run to freedom.
Martin Rodil is the president of the Washington-based Venezuelan American Leadership Council, which works to bring democracy to Venezuela.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.