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October 19, 2017
Friday, April 7, 2017

A tale of two republics

The similarities between Ecuador and Venezuela are not limited to their virtually identical flags but the last few days have also seen some illuminating disparities. The confusing events in Venezuela with President Nicolás Maduro finally having second thoughts about taking the ultimate lurch into authoritarian rule contrast with Ecuador’s ruling leftwing party braving the popular verdict in fair elections and emerging with a clear if narrow victory in Sunday’s run-off — nor should the two developments necessarily be viewed separately because if Venezuela had persisted in negating the most basic democratic and constitutional premises, who knows whether a sufficient percentage in Ecuador might have been deterred from endorsing an allied ideology to affect the result (perhaps someone in Caracas had the sense to see that the bad timing of last week’s anti-parliamentary move could have cost the regional Bolivarian axis Ecuador if not corrected)? Until now even the variants of Latin American populism most contemptuous of bourgeois democracy had always respected electoral verdicts (disregarding the popular vote would contradict the very essence of populism) — persisting in last week’s outrageous Supreme Court usurpation of Congress in Venezuela (with the appalling precedent of Peru’s Alberto Fujimori in 1992) would have crossed that line.

Ecuador’s President-elect Lenín Moreno is a very different person from Maduro but their situations are similar — both are the heirs of highly charismatic leaders (outgoing President Rafael Correa and the late Hugo Chávez) who have to maintain their heritages in much harder times for their oil-dependent economies (Venezuela far more so than Ecuador). Yet Moreno also has various advantages over Maduro: his mentor is still alive; he has Maduro’s example to learn from and — despite run-off loser Guillermo Lasso crying fraud in the classic tradition of the Latin American right — his mandate enjoys more prestige in the outside world (thus most international media generally hostile to Correa forecast a slightly higher margin for Moreno than he obtained).

As for Venezuela itself, the last few days show the situation there to be more unpredictable and complex than ever. It had always been hopelessly simplistic to describe that situation as either a glorious revolution or freedom versus tyranny but the U-turn against smashing the separation of powers shows that the democratic antibodies within the revolutionary movement created by Chávez are still alive — on the other side, the explicit calls for military intervention (especially by the new GANA Great National Agreement line but also by the mainstream opposition) show that “coup” accusations should not be limited to Maduro and that the alternatives are no paladins of freedom. No beginning of the end (or even end of the beginning) in sight for Venezuela.

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