Opinion

Letter to John Kerry on Venezuela

Forty-six experts call on secretary of state to respect legitimacy of Maduro government

March 14, 2014 7:00AM ET
A woman holds a heart-framed photograph of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chávez at a rally in Caracas in February.
Rodrigo Abd/AP


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.

 

Sincerely,

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

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Join the Conversation