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Venezuela burns, body count rises

Juan Nagel in The Daily Beast:

Venezuela Burns, Body Count Rises
Why is dialogue between the government and opposition in Venezuela so difficult? Blame the poisonous legacy of Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela’s political crisis is entering its second month. Scores have died in the violence, with many more detained, wounded, and, some say, even tortured. Yet the crisis on the streets is not the only one shaking the South American nation.On the political front, there is little to no chance of constructive dialogue between the two equally determined factions. This dearth of constructive politics can be directly traced to the late Hugo Chávez, and to the venomous rhetoric employed by his heirs.

Crises heighten the need for dialogue, but at the same time they also make it less likely. When passions are enflamed, people will be less willing to sit down and negotiate with someone they view as an aggressor.

Take, for example, last fall’s government shutdown in the US. Just when it was reaching its apex, the New York Times editorial board said “[t]he two sides will eventually have to reach a reckoning on long-term economic issues, but the time to do so is not while dangling over an abyss.”

With time, the shutdown ended and the two parties continue trying to forge agreements, with varying success. But prospects for dialogue in Venezuela seem dim to nonexistent. Why is dialogue in Venezuela so difficult?

There are many reasons. One of them has to do with Venezuela’s political institutions, which provide few instances of cooperation. In the National Assembly, legislators from left and right generally talk above, instead of with, each other. In a famous incident last year, several opposition legislators were beaten bloody by colleagues. The perpetrators went unpunished.

The lack of trust between Chavistas and the opposition has a long history. In 2003, in the midst of a political crisis, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States set up shop in Caracas for months while he sponsored peace talks between representatives of the two sides. The talks produced two agreements that the government has ignored.

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