Human rights traded for other means of survival as shortages hit average people, says the 43-year-old Harvard graduate from his prison cell in a letter to the Wall Street Journal .
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez warned in Friday's edition of The Wall Street Journal that his country was on the brink of collapse and called for Latin America to get involved. To remain silent is to be an accomplice of this disaster that hits not only Venezuela but which can have ramifications throughout the entire hemisphere, said Lopez in a letter from a Venezuelan prison where he is being held since February 18 under charges of encouraging protests that resulted in three people dead and several others wounded.
Rights are being rationalised as if they were scarce goods to be traded for other means of survival: you can have a job if you give up your right to free speech, Lopez said. My country, Venezuela, is on the brink of social and economic collapse, said Lopez, who described the situation as a disaster in slow motion.
Lopez insisted he is one of the country's political prisoners, who is being held for his words and his ideas. He accuses President Nicolás Maduro of taking things a step further to the worse, compared to the late Hugo Chavez.
Lopez also called for organisations like Unasur and Mercosur to stop playing witness and get involved in defending the human rights of Venezuela.
The ongoing plunge in global oil prices is one of the main reasons why Maduro, the hand-picked successor to Chavez, faces mounting international criticism for jailing opposition figures after months of street protests. Where Chavez once drew praise from the world’s leftist elite for using the high price of crude oil during the 2000s to underwrite a socialist revolution, a growing number of analysts in Washington say Maduro is clinging to power in a country on the edge of becoming a failed state.
Venezuela still boasts some of the world’s largest known crude reserves, but it has continued for too long spending more on government programs than it has collected in oil revenue, analysts say. The average price of oil has dropped from more than $100 a barrel to less than $60 during recent weeks, only adding to Venezuela’s woes.
Simply put, the “current situation in Venezuela is unsustainable if the price continues to fall,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy research group in Washington. “You can debate what a failed state is and what it looks like, but Venezuela can’t continue like this.”
Others offer an even more stark assessment. “There are parts of Venezuela where the state is already failed,” said Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America. He said there is “complete lawlessness” along several Venezuelan border zones, and in certain “Caracas slums where you’ve had shootouts between pro-Chavez militias and police.”
Although national security analysts are debating what the Obama administration might be able to do to positively affect the situation, Mr. Isacson said, Washington should, at a minimum, be wary of the security implications at play for the region and the world.
Venezuela is “not an area that you want ungoverned because of the way organized crime could use it as a base,” he said, pointing to a United Nations estimate that at least 200 tons of cocaine cross through the nation en route to Europe and the U.S. each year. But such realities are largely in the backdrop of more pressing domestic political turmoil that has gripped Venezuela since Chavez died of cancer in March 2013.
While reviled as a dictator by American conservatives and free market advocates in many parts of the world, Chavez carried a glorified status among his supporters during his 14-year rule. He built a cult of personality with followers — the “Chavistas” — who hailed him and his social programs for lifting millions of Venezuelans out of poverty.
At the same time, the nation struggled to overcome basic problems. On Chavez’s death, The Associated Press noted that, as a whole, Venezuelans were afflicted by chronic power outages, crumbling infrastructure, unfinished public works projects, double-digit inflation, food and medicine shortages, rampant crime and one of the world’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates.
Mr. Maduro won a razor-thin victory in a special election a month after Chavez’s death. But the nation’s opposition, famously wealthy and notoriously fractured during the Chavez’s reign, was determined to make a stand. Refusing to recognize the Maduro victory, several opposition leaders called for massive rallies in Caracas under the message that Chavez had spent years squandering the nation’s oil wealth and putting it on a path to financial ruin.
At first, it appeared Maduro might be able to weather the political storm. But Chavez left huge shoes to fill and demonstrations in Caracas soon spiraled out of control, resulting in the deaths of at least 43 people, including anti-Maduro demonstrators, his supporters and security officials. In addition to Lopez, the government has indicted longtime anti-Chavez activist Maria Corina Machado, charging the former member of the Venezuelan parliament with conspiracy in connection with a suspected plot to kill Maduro.
Analysts say Maduro is acting out of desperation to send a threatening message to an opposition eager to seize on his own plummeting approval ratings. Polls put his approval ratings as low 24 percent amid reports that the Venezuelan has no serious strategy for tackling the nation’s more than 63 percent inflation rate and widespread shortages of consumer goods such as diapers, milk and laundry detergent.