The "Dialogue" in Venezuela Is a Fraud

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

The 'Dialogue' in Venezuela Is a Fraud

More than 500 citizens have been arrested since negotiations began.

Lenin bragged that the "capitalists" would sell him the rope he would use to hang them. Fidel Castro is still putting that wisdom to good use. Observe Venezuela.

Since April 10, when Castro's puppet in Caracas, Nicolás Maduro, launched a so-called negotiation with the political opposition, more than 500 citizens linked to anti-government demonstrations have been detained. The Supreme Court has put new restrictions on the right to assemble in public. The newspaper El Nacional announced it has to suspend publication because it is being denied dollars to buy newsprint.

The government-controlled Congress announced that no opposition legislators will be included in a "truth commission" established to investigate political violence since Feb. 12. Chavista militias continue to terrorize the population. In other words, the dialogue with the opposition, cheered by the U.S. State Department, is a fraud.

The university students who continue their street demonstrations despite being abandoned by the official opposition leadership know this. Trapped in the poverty, crime and despair of the Bolivarian Revolution, they know there is no future in a country without free speech or access to hard currency, and where they have to scrounge for food. They reject life in a world where they are spied on, brainwashed and forced to conform.

They have risked much since February. Now they are told by the official opposition, led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, that it does not support regime change. Instead there will be "a dialogue" with the Cuban-backed police state.

The opposition leadership seems to have fallen into this trap because it is worried about the high cost of civil disobedience, in both blood and treasure. The State Department talks a good game about human rights, but its priorities are stability and predictable oil flows. Yet there is no peace in our time. Instead, the pretense of dialogue has given the military dictatorship time to regroup and helped it gain legitimacy internationally.

Negotiations aimed at winning concessions from a criminal organization make no sense without leverage, which the opposition had in March when the people were on the streets. But Mr. Capriles called off the big marches and went to the table without securing preconditions like the release of political prisoners, the disarming of the militia or the restoration of press freedom. Mr. Maduro slipped the noose.

It was not Mr. Capriles's first costly miscalculation. After a flawed April 2013 presidential election, hundreds of thousands in Caracas were ready to march to the electoral tribunal to demand an audit. Mr. Capriles said he was worried about bloodshed. He told them to stay home.

Fast forward to Feb. 4, when students in the city of San Cristóbal hit the streets to peacefully protest a sexual assault on campus. The police detained some of the students and jailed them far from their homes. When they were released they claimed they had been abused. More protests were followed by more arrests. Word spread. On Feb. 12, students around the country began local protests against "the tyranny." Civil-society groups joined in.

Mr. Maduro blocked the signal from the only source of independent television news (coming from Colombia) so that the public could not learn from uncensored sources of the wildfire of unrest. In the days that followed, the government cut Internet service to thousands of homes. In Caracas, tens of thousands of people went to the streets. They were met by tear gas, batons and rubber bullets. Hundreds of students were arrested while the government's civilian-clothed militia beat protesters. When opposition politician Leopoldo López was carted off to prison, the students doubled down on their protests.

The government had the firepower but it was rapidly losing control of the streets. Food shortages were worsening. The protests were centered in the wealthiest section of the city but many protesters were coming from poorer neighborhoods.

Chavistas had already infiltrated student groups. But Mr. Maduro needed more help. In March he began offering business some concessions including limited relief from price controls. What some view as a sign of hope is only more manipulation: The regime needs someone to feed the nation or, as Lenin advised, someone to sell the rope.

Meanwhile Mr. Capriles took the "dialogue" bait, pledging to reject any effort to topple Mr. Maduro. Dialogue with Castro and his cronies doesn't have a good track record. Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá challenged the regime legally. He wound up dead, run off the road by state security. In 2011 Colombian President Manuel Santos was suckered into "talks" with Colombia's Cuban-backed narcoterrorists. In 2012 he pledged they would last months not years. They drag on.

Thousands of Venezuelans have been detained since February and an estimated 41 are dead. Some were killed by a single sniper's bullet through the head. A state that practices such cruelty won't voluntarily surrender its power. That will have to be taken away by patriots who are willing to pay the price.