- By Otto J. ReichOtto J. Reich has served three U.S. presidents as, among other positions, ambassador to Venezuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and senior staff member of the National Security Council.
"All that it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." – Edmund Burke.
Bassil Da Costa was a first-year student in one of Venezuela’s universities. Distressed about deteriorating freedoms in his country as a result of increasing abuses of power by the country’s ruler, Nicolás Maduro, Da Costa marched peacefully with fellow students on Feb. 12 in the capital of Caracas to protest those things that distress his generation: Venezuela’s obscene official corruption; unprecedented shortages of food and medicine in the country with the largest reserves of oil in the world; and the increasing lawlessness that has made the country the third most violent in the world.
It was the first time that Bassil had ever demonstrated against any government. It would also be the last. He was killed by a bullet to the head fired by uniformed security forces sent to break up the peaceful march, one of two students killed that day alone.
The videos and photos from Venezuela expose the government’s abuses: defenseless, unarmed, bloodstained young people in the streets under attack from military, police and government-organized gangs of thugs that shoot, savagely beat and arrest them.
As in a George Orwell novel where day is night and black is white, Maduro responded to the bloodletting not by calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, but by persecuting the victims. He ordered the arrest — on charges of murder — of the young political leader that has led the peaceful marches, Leopoldo Lopez.
Yet, as the images of corpses in the street, like Bassil Da Costa’s and his friend’s, circle the globe, in Latin America not one single elected government has raised its voice in protest. To its credit, the U.S. State Department has condemned the Maduro government’s assaults on its people.
The orders to kill are given by the communist regime in Cuba, the real power in Caracas and one long accustomed to murdering its adversaries. The orders are obediently followed by Venezuelan officials, starting with the illegitimate "president" Maduro, whose election last year was widely challenged by observers but ratified by the government-controlled Supreme Court, which did not allow any impartial examination or recount.
By all accounts, there are over 50,000 Cubans in Venezuela, including military, intelligence and civilian security officials. They oversee all important strategic communications, espionage and national security agencies. In turn, Venezuela’s gives Cuba 120,000 barrels of oil daily — worth about $5 billion a year — representing the island’s single largest source of income by far and equaling the Soviet subsidies to Castro during the Cold War. Cuba’s next two largest revenue sources are also foreign: tourism, and the renting of medical doctors abroad, a modern-day form of indentured servitude whereby the Cuban government keeps three quarters of the doctors’ earnings paid by third countries such as Brazil.
The tragedy of the Second World War could have been avoided, wrote Winston Churchill, if the democratic governments of Europe had had the courage to stand up to Nazi aggression early. The deepening tragedy of Latin America can still be averted, but only if there is a reappearance of principle and courage in one or more of these oddly voiceless "leaders" of democracies.
There are many lessons for the U.S. in what is happening today in Venezuela. One is that as much as other nations applaud freedom, democracy and human rights, there is still only one nation willing to defend those when they are truly in peril: the United States. We must never stop loudly siding with the oppressed.
A second is that unless Latin American governments change their double standards of behavior toward dictatorships, the U.S. should pay little attention when a Latin American or Caribbean head of state pretends to speak on behalf of democracy, freedom, or the rule of law.
These see-no-evil governments seldom speak out against massive violations of human rights or corruption by regimes of the left such as Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, or Nicaragua. Leftists are the only authoritarians in power in Latin America today, and weak-willed elected presidents and prime ministers who apparently don’t care what happens to freedom or decency right over their borders are enabling them. All right-wing dictatorships in the western hemisphere were gone by the end of the Reagan Administration, a fact seldom cited by U.S. "Latin Americanists."
Today evil is occurring in Venezuela and in Cuba itself, where peaceful dissidents are also being beaten and accosted in their homes, arrested on Orwellian charges, or allowed to die in jail from hunger strikes and from denial of water or medical attention, like Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
Edmund Burke was prophetic: evil is triumphant in Latin America today — we hope only temporarily — because the men and women that were thought to be good have decided instead to collude with thugs, trying to buy time for their own survival, hoping that the aggressors will be satiated before they consume the appeasers. Churchill also said that an appeaser is one that feeds the crocodiles while hoping the animal will eat him last.