Fabiola Santiago

Credit for rebellion against Maduro goes to Venezuelan people — not Rubio or Trump

Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, looks down and holds up his hand during his symbolic swearing-in as interim president of Venezuela on a stage during a rally demanding President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Guaido declared himself interim president. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, looks down and holds up his hand during his symbolic swearing-in as interim president of Venezuela on a stage during a rally demanding President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Guaido declared himself interim president. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) AP

Anonymous Venezuelans like Sol Rojas are the agents of change in Venezuela.

“At this moment, my Caracas overflows with patriotism,” she tweeted to the outside world in Spanish on Wednesday along with a 40-second video of the massive protests brewing in Venezuela’s capital.

“The brave people have turned out to find their freedom,” she wrote.

Courageous and unrelenting, Venezuelans have been risking their lives and confronting the government on the streets since President Nicolás Maduro began to dismantle democratic institutions, imprison opponents and turn his presidency into a dictatorship with Cuba’s backing. This week, Venezuelans kicked it up a notch, showing up en masse to support a new president even as Maduro’s forces fought them with firepower.

I don’t know Rojas, but this is what she’s made of, how she describes herself: “When the regime threatens me with prison, I answer: It’s only a change in domicile to a smaller cell.”

Venezuelans like Rojas deserve all the credit for bringing Maduro’s illegitimate rule to the brink — and for inspiring the unexpected bold move of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó to declare himself interim president of a transitional government until new elections can be held.

The more than 2.3 million Venezuelans who have fled the country since 2014 — the largest migration crisis in recent Latin American history, according to Human Rights Watch — also has brought pressure to bear on Maduro’s regime.

So don’t be so quick, Washington and Caracas, to give all the credit for what’s happening in Venezuela to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump.

The U.S. president merely acted as he should, supportive of an initiative to restore democracy, as did some heads of state in Latin America and around the world.

Accolades for the rebellion against Maduro go to Guaidó and the Venezuelan people — whether they stayed in Caracas or fled to Miami and elsewhere. Without Venezuelans on the street dying to support him, there wouldn’t be a Guaidó.

Has Rubio worked for years to help the Maduro opposition — and shrewdly maneuvered the topic on the president’s plate by pledging his unwavering support for embattled Trump in exchange for hard-line policies on Cuba and Venezuela?

You bet. But, although he has pulled strings in Washington, that doesn’t make him the Venezuelan rainmaker.

Did Trump and his team react quickly to recognize Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, and agree to send humanitarian aid, because of Rubio’s leadership on the issue? You bet. But restoring democracy in Venezuela has widespread bipartisan backing, as Democrats quickly demonstrated with their public support for Guaidó and the Venezuelan protesters.

“Hungry, the people are hungry!” a protester captured on video summed up the struggle.

But if you watched the press conference of Florida GOP leaders in front of the White House, letting voters at home know all they’ve done in support of Guaidó, then you’d be inclined to believe Maduro’s claim that this is a U.S.-orchestrated coup.

Such moves — to score points for the GOP at home — only feed into Maduro’s rhetoric and embolden his supporters.

On Thursday, Venezuela’s military pledged allegiance to Maduro, a critical move that will likely prolong conflict in the country, now with dueling presidents.

Listen to how Venezuelan Defense Minister and chief of the military, Vladimir Padrino López, justified reaffirming his support for Maduro.

The armed forces, he said, “will never accept a president imposed under the shadows of obscure interests nor self-declared outside the law. Nor will it ever subordinate itself to a foreign power or to a government not democratically elected by the people of Venezuela.”

It’s nonsense, of course, as the Venezuelan government under Hugo Chávez and Maduro did “subordinate itself to a foreign power” — Cuba. And it’s not for nothing that the regime earned the nickname “narcodictatura” for the drug-trafficking and money-laundering arrests of its close associates.

I admire the Venezuelan people.

It’s easy to protest in a democracy, but standing up to a dictatorship backed by the military takes exceptional courage. Theirs is true Resistance with a capital R.

In 60 years of oppression, the Cubans haven’t been able to muster that kind of collective and thunderous push back against the regime — not even when tough-talking Ronald Reagan was president, the Soviet bloc was crumbling, and Fidel Castro was executing the country’s Angola war hero for treason.

Cuban Americans had all the power in Washington, then too, and nada.

No, this uprising isn’t Rubio or Trump’s doing.

This is organic, Venezuelan-made. As it should be.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
  Comments