The Vatican’s conditional interest in mediating the political chaos in Venezuela is the first promising development in that country since the current round of unrest began in earnest almost two months ago. Yet there is little reason for optimism because the government seems to be in no mood for peace.
If his stated interest in reconciliation were sincere, the first thing President Nicolás Maduro would do is call off the dogs — the pro-government militants who have sown terror on the streets by intimidating, beating and shooting protesters.
Instead of putting them on a leash, though, Mr. Maduro has publicly praised these thugs as defenders of the “Bolivarian revolution.” Resorting to brute force to silence critics hardly sets the stage for mediation. Targeting high-profile government adversaries, including elected officials, only makes matters worse.
Shortly after the wave of protests began, the government ordered the arrest of outspoken government critic Leopoldo Lopez for allegedly inciting violence. On Friday, an appeals court rejected his plea for bail. Far from discouraging opponents, Mr. Lopez’s imprisonment has served only to raise his profile as a leader of the hard-line opposition and fueled further protest.
Apparently unable to learn from its mistakes, the government doubled down on its dubious tactic. On March 21, authorities jailed the mayors of two cities that have seen some of the most intense unrest — Daniel Ceballos of San Cristóbal and Enzo Scarano of San Diego. They were arrested, tried and sentenced within a matter of hours on trumped-up charges of failing to prevent violence.
Then, last week, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello announced that a prominent opposition deputy, Maria Corina Machado, had lost her seat and parliamentary immunity and could be arrested at any time. She courageously defied the government by leading a street protest days later and remains free as of this writing. But for how long?
Ms. Machado’s predicament is particularly troubling because it casts a spotlight on the shameful role played by the Organization of American States. Ms. Machado appeared before the OAS in Washington to complain about the violence in Venezuela and arbitrary acts committed by the government. As if to prove her right, the Maduro government promptly yanked her legislative credentials.
What’s worse, the OAS assembly voted not only to keep her speech off the record, but also refused to discuss the situation in Venezuela at all. Thus, instead of playing the role of mediator, the OAS effectively became an enabler of wrongdoing, forfeiting the right to call itself a defender of regional democratic freedoms.
After all this, it’s hard to take Mr. Maduro at his word when he says he’s open to having a “facilitator” create a dialogue with the opposition. The government’s hostile actions have destroyed the possibility of good faith. The Vatican said Friday it’s willing to help, but wants to see if a “desirable outcome” is possible.
If he wants to be taken seriously, Mr. Maduro should disavow the armed groups staging attacks on peaceful protesters, release jailed opposition leaders and restore the rights of elected leaders wrongfully removed from office.
If he is prepared to offer these tokens of sincerity, productive talks may be possible — not just to stop the violence, but to determine what changes Mr. Maduro is prepared to make in the failed social and economic policies that lie at the root of Venezuela’s distress.