An Open Letter on the Situation in Venezuela

As members of the Latin American Studies Association, we take issue with the Executive Committee’s April 2017 statement on Venezuela. The statement condemns the Venezuelan government for “a decisive step towards authoritarian rule,” referring to the March 29 decision of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (Supreme Court) to temporarily revoke the powers of the Venezuelan National Assembly in response to the Assembly’s seating of three opposition legislators accused of fraud. We too are critical of certain actions of the Venezuelan government, including the TSJ’s March 29 decision – which, we were happy to observe, the TSJ mostly reversed on April 1. But we find the Executive Committee’s statement highly misleading. In singling out the Nicolás Maduro government for criticism, and ignoring the threats to Venezuelan democracy and peace represented by the right-wing opposition and U.S. government, the statement seriously distorts the situation. This omission runs the risk of justifying further U.S. intervention in the country and lending cover to an opposition with a long record of antidemocratic behavior.

Many factors have contributed to the grave economic and political crisis in Venezuela. Some are longstanding and structural, such as the inherent weaknesses of an oil-dependent economy. Other factors include the hostility of most private businesses to the Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro governments, an often-violent opposition and U.S. government that have never accepted the electoral legitimacy of Chávez or Maduro, and – yes – certain actions and inactions of the government itself, which, despite facilitating advances in social welfare and participatory governance since 1999, has mismanaged the currency and done too little to promote the diversification and democratization of the economy.

Unfortunately, the Executive Committee’s statement implies that the Maduro government bears primary blame for the current crisis. It also perpetuates the common right-wing narrative about Venezuelan “political prisoners,” failing to acknowledge that most of those prisoners are incarcerated for committing or inciting violence against the government and leftist civilians. We would expect this kind of Cold War framing from Fox News or the New York Times, but not from the LASA leadership.

A more balanced assessment of the Venezuelan crisis was issued by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on April 20. Guterres’ statement “call[s] on the Government of Venezuela and the opposition to engage sincerely to reactivate dialogue efforts,” and “urge[s] that all efforts be made to lower tensions and prevent further clashes.” We echo the spirit of Guterres’s statement, and further call for the cessation of all U.S. hostilities toward Venezuela – including the sanctions currently in place against Venezuelan officials, the “democracy promotion” programs that funnel money to right-wing opposition forces, and all other forms of intervention.


The undersigned current and former members of LASA:

Serena Ahmed, Independent scholar
César Aponte, Casa de Cronopios
Robert Austin, University of Sydney
William Aviles, University of Nebraska at Kearney
Dario Azzellini, Murphy Institute, CUNY
Marc Becker, Truman State University
William Bollinger, California State University Los Angeles
Rosalind Bresnahan, California State University (retired)
Raul Burbano, Common Frontiers
Ronald Chilcote, University of California Riverside
George Ciccariello-Maher, Drexel University
Amy Cooper, Saint Louis University
Tomás Crowder-Taraborrelli, Sosa University of America
Héctor Cruz Feliciano, Universidad Autónoma de Nicaragua
Jorge Enrique Cuéllar, Yale University
Isaac Curtis, University of Pittsburgh
Jonathan Dettman, University of Nebraska at Kearney
Monica Dias Martins, Universidade Estadual do Ceará, Brasil
Steve Ellner, Latin American Perspectives
Linda Farthing, Independent scholar
Sujatha Fernandes, University of Sydney
Edgar Iván Gutiérrez, Riverside City College
John L. Hammond, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Richard L. Harris, University of Hawai’i at Hilo
Kevin Henderson, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Forrest Hylton, Northwestern University
Clara E. Irazábal Zurita, University of Missouri – Kansas City
Dale L. Johnson, Rutgers University (emeritus)
George Leddy, Latin American Perspectives
Fernando Leiva, University of California Santa Cruz
Rowan Lubbock, Birkbeck College, University of London
Stanley Malinowitz, Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Liz Mason-Deese, University of Mary Washington
Angus McNelly, Queen Mary, University of London
Ronaldo Munck, Dublin City university
Simeon J. Newman, University of Michigan
Richard Parra, Peruvian writer
Ivan Pojomovsky, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco
Shahid Qadir, Third World Quarterly
Peter Ranis, Graduate Center, CUNY
Tathagatan Ravindran, Universidad Icesi, Colombia
Gerardo Rénique, City College of New York, CUNY
William Robinson, University of California at Santa Barbara
Alexander Sanson, Goucher College
Naomi Schiller, Brooklyn College, CUNY
T.M. Scruggs, University of Iowa (emeritus)
Diana Carolina Sierra Becerra, University of Michigan
Pablo Silva, University of California Davis
Victor Silverman, Pomona College
Susan Spronk, University of Ottawa
Richard Stahler-Sholk, Eastern Michigan University
Luis Suárez Salazar, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba
Sinclair Thomson, New York University
Miguel Tinker Salas, Pomona College
Jonah Walters, Rutgers University
Clare Weber, Latin American Perspectives
Kristi M. Wilson, Soka University of America
Tony Wood, New York University
Kevin A. Young, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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