Will the Venezuelan Opposition Fall into UNASUR’s Trap?

A new political crisis is brewing in Venezuela as the economy continues its free fall, social unrest grows, and the government escalates its crackdown of the opposition. Two weeks ago, the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was arbitrarily arrested under spurious changes of planning a coup. Other leading figures of the opposition are being targeted by Nicolás Maduro’s regime and could be detained at any time.

Once again, the Venezuelan opposition, as well as international human rights organizations and former presidents from other Latin American countries, have demanded that the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), an intergovernmental organization of South American countries, take a stand on the situation in Venezuela. Well, it has. On several occasions, either the secretary general of UNASUR, Ernesto Samper, or the ministers of foreign relations who have been tasked with mediating the conflict, have unequivocally sided with Maduro’s regime.

After meeting with Maduro a few days ago, Samper said that “All the countries of UNASUR reject any attempt, domestic or external, to destabilize the stability and democratic tranquility of Venezuela. We have received evidence (of the attempts).” Ten days after Ledezma’s arrest, Ricardo Patiño, foreign minister of Ecuador and one of UNASUR “mediators” in Venezuela held a “solidarity event” for the Maduro regime, saying that “We are willing to travel to Venezuela as many times as necessary to collaborate with the elected government’s revolutionary authorities on behalf of Venezuelans, and contribute to stopping what presents itself as a new coup that we deem unacceptable.”

It’s pretty evident that UNASUR’ mission in Venezuela is to boost the government. Why is it then that some leaders of the Venezuelan opposition as well as other international actors still expect this organization to play a constructive role in the crisis?

But UNASUR’s part doesn’t end there. For some reason, despite its unambiguous statements in favor of Maduro’s regime, the organization has in the past been accepted as a mediator between the government and a sector of the opposition. As such, the UNASUR-mediated negotiations have had two effects: First, they have helped divide the opposition between those that recognize the futility of negotiating with a dictatorship and those that still believe they can get concessions from the government. Second, they have given the Maduro regime an opportunity to fool the world into believing that it’s willing to negotiate with the opposition. In addition, they have helped portray those who refuse to participate as “radicals.”    

Such is what happened after the arrest of Leopoldo López a year ago. López continues to languish in jail, the government diverted international pressure, and the opposition became as divided as ever between those who sat down to negotiate (“collaborationist,” according to those who refused to take part) and those who claimed it was a trap (“radicals,” according to those that accepted UNASUR’s mediation).

After the arrest of Ledezma, will the “moderate” elements of the opposition once again fall into the trap of accepting UNASUR’s offer to mediate?