Venezuelan President Maduro has chosen to jail potential opponents. He claims they plot coups, conspire with imperialism, and the like. This is certainly possible. Coup plotting and imperial conspiring has happened in Venezuela, and is no doubt happening now, too. Enemies who want to cease and reverse the gains of Venezuela’s recent revolutionary years are external, including the U.S., but they are also internal, including economic saboteurs, coup plotters, and some candidates for office as well.
But whatever response you might think such reactionaries deserve, Miguel Rodriguez Torres is not an enemy of Chavista gains, not a coup plotter, but one of Chavismo’s most loyal architect-advocates. Judge for yourself in two lengthy interviews I conducted with him in Caracas in 2013 and 2016. At the time I felt I had talked with a future President of Venezuela, an activist worthy of the position, an opponent of authoritarian impulses who would advance Chavismo in accord with its full potentials. In 2013 I told him that. He laughed at the thought, feeling it, I think, a bit ludicrous.
Years later, sad that it was necessary, he felt compelled by unfolding events to reconsider his reticence and build support for a truly Chavista campaign for President. After serving and supporting Maduro, Chavez’s preferred successor, Torres no longer felt Maduro to be a lasting, sustainable, and optimal vehicle for Chavismo. That assessment strengthened as time passed. Torres’ efforts to find a path from Venezuela’s precipice has now been rewarded with imprisonment based on ludicrous charges of treason. I am told he is being moved to a maximum security prison far from Caracas with violent criminals that Torres himself helped put away when he was Minister of Interior. This poses an obvious risk to his life. He will also be under the jurisdiction of the Prison Minister, Iris Varela, who has publicly declared Torres a traitor and called for his “hanging.”
How do we understand this situation? I don’t have a confident answer. I understand English, but not Spanish. I live in the U.S., not Venezuela. Yes, I have been there. Yes, I have friends there, including Miguel Rodriguez Torres, but short of sitting and talking with Maduro, and even if one had that opportunity, how does one know what is in another person’s mind for sure, especially in such a conflicted time and place?
Are Maduro and Varela others in office in their own minds truly defending Chavismo, albeit with horrendous methods? Are they delusional to the point of believing their own stories, not criminal but merely paranoid? Are they instead simply corrupt, lying not to preserve horribly misguided but sincerely mistaken notions, but to defend their own power and access to wealth? Is it just that power corrupts? Is it that the remarkable Hugo Chavez was the barrier to creeping corruption and authoritarianism and his absence plus worsening conditions have reduced that barrier to nothing?
I don’t know, but this much seems to me inescapable. We should oppose and avoid providing the slightest intimation favoring U.S. intervention or right wing Venezuelan agendas. But we should not let the situation rest at that. Whatever factors have caused the current crisis, the arrest of Miguel Rodriguez Torres – and, I wouldn’t be surprised if others comparably close to Chavez in the past, and to Chavismo now, are taken shortly as well – must be reversed. He/they must be freed.
When Chavez was dying he decided to urge the elevation of Maduro. No doubt he felt he had picked someone who could stay the course against all obstacles and pressures. Maybe no one could have, but certainly Maduro has not. Will he now start to redeem his failings by rescinding the arrest(s), by recognizing the need not for repressive violence, but for left-wing wisdom? Or will he consign Miguel Rodriguez Torres and likely others as well to confinement or worse? Only time will answer. And voices, one hopes, world wide.
It isn’t just Miguel Rodriguez Torres’ freedom and life at stake in these events as I am sure he would untiringly emphasize. It is Chavismo. It is Venezuela. It is Latin America. It is humanity. As always.