By: Vidar Skillingsås
A poster in a recent demonstration in Venezuela stated; “The people should not fear the government; the government should fear the people”. A sentence that perfectly describes what kind of power that lies within the people, even when the leaders are a violent ascendancy. Nonviolence is not an absolute tool against every regime, but in Venezuela it is. The last weeks incidents and uprising has given textbook examples on how nonviolence can be a gamechanger. Even when the situation has been painted into its darkest corner for the oppressed and pressed people.
What is nonviolence?
Ghandi developed nonviolence as a pressure method to force India’s British rulers to comply with the peoples wishes for changes and independence. What the Indian’s surprisingly got was a peaceful handover of power in 1947. The methods were simple, but effective, and required bold steps for the suppressed people. When people are in a poor position with nothing to lose, it’s impressing how brave and far they can go to fulfil their dreams and hopes for a better future.
Let us look to the Ghandian way to describe the basics for nonviolence. It required three steps; persuasion by presenting facts; sacrifice by nonviolent uprisings, risking arrests and harm in order to collect sympathy; massive non-cooperation to force change by withdrawing consent and undermine the leader’s power.
Why is there an uprising?
Venezuela has been mismanaged for many years and are struggling with the legacy of former President Hugo Chavez, who transformed himself into a dictator. He wanted to create a socialist state, which failed after the fall of oil prices in 2014. In a lightning speed, the inflation went rocket high, which created huge challenges for the population. A nation used to wealth through oil, were suddenly experiencing extreme poverty.
The ruling president since 2013, Nicolás Maduro, inherited the power after Chavez’ death. He moved the nation further to the edge of the cliff, and eventually pushed Venezuela into the abyss of the misery valley.
President Maduro was re-elected 10 May last year, but the election was accused, domestic and internationally, of being undemocratic. He was reinstated 10 January, but the President of Parliament, the oppositions Juan Guaidó, challenged his legitimacy. Guaidó appointed himself, through constitutional rights, and with a broad international support, as President for an interim government. In the wake of this events, an uprising has started amongst the population, following several uprisings through the years, since Maduro came to power. Many has been violent and bloody, leaving hundred’s dead.
Nonviolence is already in action
When I look at Ghandi’s three steps, and compare them with the evolving situation in Venezuela, I can clearly see similarities in the development. The opposition in Venezuela has gathered information that the election was undemocratic. They have tried to persuade President Maduro to declare new elections without any success of breaking through the wall of power lust.
The oppositions next step was to mobilize the population in nonviolent mass demonstrations, knowing that the regimes response most likely would be violent. The people were ready to sacrifice,
and huge crowds gathered with the demand of Maduro leaving his post. They also supported Guaidó’s interim presidency. Still this didn’t unsettle Maduros will to stay in power. The opposition climbed the next step on the non-violent ladder, to massive non-cooperation. People stopped working, shattering an already destroyed economy and undermining the power of the government.
One of the wanted outcomes from nonviolence is the attention and sympathy from the international community. The opposition has succeeded in this. Powerful countries, organizations and institutions, such as USA, EU and The Organization of American States supports the demand of Maduro resigning and to announce new elections. They are isolating and sanctioning Venezuela, preventing the government to improve the economy. President Maduro and his followers are being undermined, and thereby loses power.
Nonviolence as the only solution
It can be stated that the undermining of the rulers can have the opposite effect. That they will have an argument that external powers are causing the economic problems and justify a possible use of force to crack down on the uprising. I don’t think that will be the outcome. The people of Venezuela know that this is caused by internal factors as misrule and the creation of a dictator state.
One of the key factors for the outcome of the crisis, is the Venezuelan military forces. They are having a dialogue with both sides, even though they formally are supporting Maduro. The Military is having tremendous internal issues because of lack of funding. Desertion rates are high, and there is a widespread of unrest among its younger officers. Some have tried to conduct military coups that have failed. The senior military leaders are aware that they need to keep order within their ranks, to secure their own positions. One of the success factors is a proper financing of the military forces. A violent response from the military will throw the country into turmoil’s and a possible civil war, with minor chances to recover its economy. That is not a wanted end-state. Therefor they need to proceed on a nonviolent path and support the opposition. Guaidó and his followers has the support of a larger scale of the international community. They are ready to assist Venezuela and make the cash flow into the country again.
Air force General Francisco Yanez gave his support to Guaidó on Saturday. The first senior officer to do so, encouraging his colleagues to do the same. The nonviolent rollercoaster has just started. The more nonviolent weight that’s put on it, the faster it will roll towards a peaceful solution as its final destination. In the end it will bring back hope and prosperity for Venezuela.
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