Since its flawed April 14 presidential election, Venezuela has experienced violence over opposition demands for a vote recount. Pro-democracy forces must keep the moral high ground of nonviolence to avoid another Syria.
For years, political violence in Latin America has been rare – until this week. On Tuesday, a vicious brawl broke out in Venezuela’s National Assembly. A few opposition lawmakers were badly beaten by ruling party members after objecting to the dubious results of last month’s presidential election.
The brawl follows the killing of street protesters and the use of intimidation tactics against the opposition over its demand for an audit of the much-rigged April 14 vote.
If such violence continues, Venezuela could be ripe for a larger popular revolt aimed at restoring its badly damaged democracy. Yet, as the example of strife-torn Syria shows, pro-democracy leaders must resist any tendency toward violence. The surest way to victory in a democratic revolution is to split the ruling elite and the military by appealing to their conscience – not their fears.
This is the lesson of many “velvet” revolutions in recent decades, from the Philippines to the breakup of the Soviet Union to Myanmar (Burma) to Egypt. When a political opposition keeps the moral high ground with nonviolence, whistle-blowers emerge, soldiers refuse to shoot, army officers defect, and cronies of a despot switch sides, either to save themselves or their values. Meanwhile, other nations with duly elected leaders offer moral support.