Nicolas Maduro's Failures All Too Apparent

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Nicolás Maduro didn't fare well in the first round of talks at Miraflores Palace. Man does not live by slogans alone.

He, his government and half of Venezuela for the first time had to (or could) listen in silence to the complaints and recriminations of an opposition that represents at least half of the country.

A revolutionary leader is a voracious and strange creature that feeds on empty words.

It is easy to spout revolutionary rhetoric in a pompous voice, gaze lost in space, perhaps looking for talking birds or miraculous faces that appear on walls, while accusing the victims of being fascists, bourgeois or any other nonsense that comes to mind.

The official team spoke of the revolution in the abstract. The opposition spoke of the daily life. For those spectators who are not dogmatic, the result was obvious: The opposition won sweepingly.

It is impossible to defend oneself from the lack of milk, from the evidence that this awful government has destroyed the productive apparatus, from the inflation, from the mass flight of the most hard-working Venezuelans, from the most scandalous corruption the country has ever suffered, from the plunder perpetrated daily by the insolvent Cuban government, from the terrible fact that last year 25,000 Venezuelans were murdered with impunity by a criminal element that grows daily.

Why did Maduro stage that anti-government guarimba - demonstration - at Miraflores Palace?

Why did he pay the price of hugely hurting the image of the political movement he inherited from the late Hugo Chávez, and why did he expose his own weakness by giving the opposition a forum?

He had two clear objectives and failed to achieve them.

• The first was to silence the protests and remove the young people from the streets. The "Student Movement" - the nation's most respected institution, according to a poll by analyst Alfredo Keller - had managed to paralyze Venezuela and disseminate the images of an oppressive regime enforced by paramilitary groups and National Guards-men who behaved with the cruelty of armies of occupation and had committed 40 murders.

• The second was to repair his own image and that of the regime. The polls showed that they're both in free fall. Maduro lags about 18 points behind the opposition. He is blamed (even by his own people) for scuttling Chávez's project and being responsible for the shortages of consumer goods and the violence.

Almost no one believes that the crisis is caused by a plot by the merchants and the United States. The great majority of the people (81 percent) supports the existence of private business. Two out of three Venezuelans have the worst opinion of the Cuban government.

That phenomenon carries a high political and international cost. One hundred and ninety-eight parliamentarians from various South American countries, led by Argentine deputy Cornelia Schmidt, appeared before the International Criminal Court at The Hague to accuse Maduro of genocide, torture and murders. He could end up behind bars, like Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic did.

To be a member of the Chávez movement is very costly, as Costa Rican presidential candidate José María Villalta found out. That (fair) accusation pulverized him at the polls. A survey conducted by Ipsos in Peru confirmed that 94 percent of the country rejects Maduro and Chavismo, a fact acknowledged by Ollanta Humala, who now stays a prudent distance from Caracas.

Now, even the popular Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil, appreciates those dangerous liaisons. Only Rafael Correa, who suffers from a noticeable confusion of values and doesn't understand what freedom and democracy are, insists on his unbreakable friendship with Maduro.

The opposition - as Julio Borges said - will remain on the streets and, of course, will continue its dialogue with the regime. For how long? Until all political prisoners are released, including the opposition mayors, and until the rights of María Corina Machado and Leopoldo López are reinstated.

Until the regime renounces Havana's shameful and unaffordable tutelage, creates a neutral National Electoral Council and restores the Judiciary's independence. Until the government desists from its communist rudderlessness and admits that Venezuelans don't want to "navigate toward the Cuban sea of happiness."

In sum, until clean elections are held, in the presence of impartial observers, and the will of the people is truly confirmed: Out with Maduro and his cronies.

Carlos Alberto Montaner was born in Havana in 1943 and has lived in Madrid since 1970. A former university professor, he is an acclaimed writer and journalist. His syndicated column appears in dozens of newspapers in the United States, Latin America and Spain. Originally published in the Miami Herald. Republished with author permission.

(AP Photo)

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