Take Back Venezuela With Votes, Not Violence

A Better Strategy for Countering Maduro

A woman cries during a rally where opposition supporters pay tribute to victims of violence in protests against Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, July 2017.  Ueslei Marcelino / REUTERS

On August 4, two drones exploded in midair during a speech by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, in what the government alleges was a foiled assassination attempt. Although most opposition forces disavowed the attack, the government used it as an excuse to further clamp down on dissent, ordering 34 arrests, including that of Juan Requesens, a member of Congress. Disturbing videos circulated last week suggest that the government forcibly drugged and humiliated the lawmaker to try to get him to confess to participating in the plot.

To many, Maduro’s assault on democratic freedoms and systematic violation of human rights mean that there is no choice but to use force to try to drive him from power. But violent confrontation between the opposition and a government that is more than willing to abuse its monopoly on force is exactly what Maduro wants.

Instead, Venezuela’s democratic opposition should resist Maduro by exploiting his greatest weakness: his lack of popular support. Opinion surveys consistently show that nearly four-fifths of Venezuelans disapprove of the way that Maduro is running the country and would like him to leave the presidency. Democratic change for Venezuela will require using all the possible avenues—however limited they may be—of democratic engagement to contest the regime. Abandoning any of these avenues, as mainstream opposition forces did when they boycotted presidential elections earlier this year, could be a fatal mistake. The opposition cannot afford to repeat the error of sitting out an electoral contest in the upcoming referendum on a new constitution that could spell the end of Venezuelan democratic institutions.

Democratic change for Venezuela will require using all the possible avenues of democratic engagement to contest the regime.

I do not dispute that extreme measures can be ethically justified when confronting a violent and oppressive regime. But from a strategic perspective, violence is rarely if ever an effective way to combat a dictatorship. Democratic movements will have more success using electoral politics and peaceful protest to weaken

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