Dear Secretary Kerry,
We write to you out of concern over what is happening in Venezuela, and urge you to stand by democratic institutions and the rule of law there.
The recent violent incidents in Venezuela are tragic and demonstrate once again the importance of resolving political conflicts and differences through legitimate, constitutional means. On April 14, 2013, President Nicolás Maduro was elected with a 1.8 percent margin of victory — much more than that received by several former U.S. presidents, including Richard Nixon (in 1968), John F. Kennedy (in 1960) and George W. Bush (in 2000). The election-day audit of a random sample of 53 percent of voting machines, checked against paper ballot receipts, left no reasonable doubt as to the result. Just two months ago, Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and allied parties won a majority of municipal elections nationwide by a 10-point margin over the opposition. Those elections were widely seen by the Venezuelan opposition, the Venezuelan private media and the international media as a plebiscite on Maduro’s government, and the pro-government parties clearly won.
It appears that a sector of the political opposition is determined to use those who want to protest peacefully as part of an effort to foment violence and overturn the results of democratic elections. The most prominent actors in the current protest movement — Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado — have histories of supporting such efforts to force democratically elected presidents from office. López himself took part in the 2002 coup d’état against then-President Hugo Chávez by overseeing the violent arrest of the then–Minister of Justice and the Interior Ramón Rodríguez Chacín when López was mayor of Chacao. Over the past few weeks, López has called for President Maduro’s resignation. Machado also supported the 2002 coup against Venezuela’s democratically elected government and signed the coup government’s decree abolishing the constitution, congress and the supreme court.
By supporting the opposition’s attempt to reverse the results of democratic elections, the U.S. government is helping push the country towards more instability and violence. Sadly, the U.S. government has a history of similar actions with regard to Venezuela, including its support for the military coup of April 2002.
The deaths of the protesters are tragic, and there have been people killed on both sides. The violence of February 12 calls for a thorough investigation by the Venezuelan authorities. Unfortunately, the flames of fear, confusion and anger have been fanned by inaccurate information in both the major news media and social media. Images of violent episodes from the past have been presented as current events on outlets such as CNN, and numerous images of incidents from Greece, Spain, Belarus, Chile and other countries are being falsely presented as having occurred in Venezuela on YouTube, Twitter and other social media.
We are troubled to note that so far the U.S. government has taken the most aggressive and partisan stance of any country in the hemisphere regarding the recent violence. While Latin American nations and organizations such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) have expressed concern about the opposition's destabilization tactics, the U.S. State Department has made statements that will only encourage the most radical, violent sectors of the opposition to continue on their current path.
We urge you to reaffirm a commitment to democracy, in this case Venezuela’s democratic institutions and the will of the Venezuelan people, which twice over the past ten months has affirmed support for the administration of Nicolás Maduro through an electoral process that former president Jimmy Carter has described as the “best in the world.” Doing so could help engender good will in the region and discourage more violence. We fear that doing the opposite will have unfortunate consequences both for the people of Venezuela and for U.S.-Latin American relations.
Joel Andreas, Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
Thomas Angotti, Professor of Urban Affairs, CUNY Graduate Center
Robert Austin, Honorary Research Fellow, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, University of Queensland, Australia
Dario Azzellini, Professor of Sociology, Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, Austria
Marc Becker, Professor of Latin American History, Truman State University
Keane Bhatt, writer and activist
Donald W. Bray, Professor of Political Science Emeritus, California State University, Los Angeles
Marjorie Woodford Bray, Director of Latin American Studies, Retired, California State University, Los Angeles
Michael Brenner, Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh
Julia Buxton, Central European University
Ronald H. Chilcote, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Political Science, University of California, Riverside
George Ciccariello-Maher, Professor of Political Science, Drexel University
Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Lisa Duggan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University; President-Elect, American Studies Association
Luis Duno-Gottberg, Professor of Film and Caribbean Studies, Rice University
Alex Dupuy, Professor of Sociology, Wesleyan University
Steve Ellner, Professor of History, Universidad de Oriente, Venezuela
Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center
Bill Fletcher, Jr., writer and activist
John Foran, Professor of Sociology; former director, Program in Latin American and Iberian Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, New York University
Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University
Daniel Hellinger, Professor of Latin American Politics, Webster University
Katherine Hite, Professor of Political Science, Vassar College
Forrest Hylton, Lecturer in History & Literature, Harvard University
Dan Kovalik, Professor of International Human Rights, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
George Leddy, Professor of Environmental Science, Los Angeles Valley College
Sidney Lemelle, Professor of History, Pomona College
Paul O'Connell, Reader in Law, SOAS, University of London
Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology, American University
Margaret Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
Vijay Prashad, Edward Said Chair of American Studies, American University of Beirut
Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Nazih Richani, Director of Latin American Studies, Kean University
William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara
Eric Selbin, University Scholar & Professor of Political Science, Southwestern University
Cathy Schneider, Professor of International Affairs, American University
T.M. Scruggs, Professor Emeritus of Music, University of Iowa
Denise A. Segura, Professor, Department of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara
Naoko Shibusawa, Professor of History, Brown University
Victor Silverman, Professor of History, Pomona College
Richard Stahler-Sholk, Professor, Political Science, Eastern Michigan University
Sinclair Thompson, Professor of History, New York University
Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of History, Pomona College
Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Political Research
John Womack, Jr., Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics, emeritus, Harvard University