Venezuela’s place in Latin America is unique in the sense that in a sea of relative stability, it is subject to extreme economic and political turmoil. The upcoming Dec. 6 legislative elections have once again brought to the forefront security issues and political chaos. There is
already speculation among regional experts and media outlets the opposition will have a strong showing in the Venezuelan elections. If the opposition wins a majority, the question of governance and transition arises. If the opposition fails to get a majority, undoubtedly some will
bring calls of election fraud. However, the recent regional-level support for a democratic electoral process in Venezuela and the emergence of Chile as a leftist facilitator suggest that there is a higher chance of post-election political stability in Venezuela.
The lead up to Venezuela’s Dec. 6 legislative elections illustrates Latin America’s regional efforts to internally manage political uncertainty in the region and avoid the influence of extra-regional participants. The Latin American Parliament (Parlatino) rejected a proposal to condemn the Venezuelan government’s handling of elections. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) also recently stated that while there is a lot of verbal aggression in Venezuela, the group has not seen the possibility of disruption to democratic order. Unasur, as opposed to Organization of American States (OAS), was also selected by Venezuela as the regional body responsible for observing elections. Both Parlatino and Unasur are groups with only Latin American countries while OAS – which has been critical of the election climate so far – includes United States and Canada as members. On the national level, both Brazil and Uruguay have said they do not support Argentine President-elect Mauricio Macri’s call to apply Mercosur’s democracy clause and temporarily suspend Venezuela from the trade block.
In addition to this broad regional rhetoric for solving political issues without outside help, Chile appears to be emerging as the regional facilitator for quietly helping to create some semblance of order in Venezuela. Over the last 10-15 years, leftist governments in the region have developed their own system for dealing with political instability or transition involving other left-leaning governments. The system involved a comparatively moderate left-leaning political leader – usually a president – who quietly talks to pertinent parties to facilitate order, political negotiations and transitions. The leader does not directly meddle or dictate a course of action. Rather he/she facilitates quiet, behind-the-scenes conversations. In the past, former Brazilian President Inacio “Lula” da Silva and former Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica most commonly exercised this role. However, Mujica is no longer in office and an opposing political party now holds power in Uruguay, which reduces his influence and effectiveness. Lula’s ability and credibility in this role has significantly dropped as corruption scandals plague the Brazilian government and his Workers Party.
Recent events in the last two weeks suggest that Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is stepping in to this regional role. On Nov. 18, the Chilean Supreme Court ruled the Chilean government must call upon the Human Rights Commission of OAS to seek protection and monitoring for Venezuelan political prisoners Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos. Just after the ruling, Chile’s Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz publicly emphasized that the decision came from the courts and are not representative of a decision made by Bachelet. More recently, on Nov. 29, Chilean Ambassador to Venezuela Pedro Ramírez Ceballos received orders from Bachelet to visit Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez. Ramirez was instructed to express Bachelet’s concern over Tintori’s physical safety after the latter was present during the shooting of Venezuelan opposition politician Luis Manuel Díaz. Two days later, La Tercera, one of Chile’s leading newspapers published a verbatim interview with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles in which he highlights the need for voter participation to bring about positive change in Venezuela. Also around this time, a Chilean legislative delegation traveled to Cuba to meet with Cuban counterparts and strengthen not only legislative relations but also strengthen political relations between the two countries.
Bachelet fits the profile for assuming this regional role of facilitating orderly processes in left-leaning countries and is the most logical choice given Lula and Mujica’s absence. She comes from the political left and enjoyed high popularity ratings during her first term during which she pursued comparatively moderate economic policies. For example, she did not adopt populist models seen in other left-leaning countries at the time. In her second term, Bachelet’s coalition included the communist party. While there were concerns that she would adopt more extreme leftist policies during this time, the economic challenges in Chile have prevented her from fully carrying out her reforms as planned – they were either taking longer to assemble and/or have been watered down so that they could be passed by the legislature. She understands political transitions as well as how to try and blend political ideology with practical policies needed for economic growth.