Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Case for Non-Violent Resistance in Venezuela

 "Nonviolent action (also sometimes referred to as people power, political defiance, and nonviolent struggle) is a technique of action for applying power in a conflict by using symbolic protests, noncooperation, and defiance, but not physical violence. Nonviolent action may involve: 1. Acts of omission—that is, people may refuse to perform acts that they usually perform, are expected by custom to perform, or are required by law or regulation to perform; 2. Acts of commission—that is, people may perform acts that they do not usually perform, are not expected by custom to perform, or are forbidden to perform; or 3. A combination of the two. As a technique, therefore, nonviolent action is not passive. It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent." - Albert Einstein Institution

Acts of solidarity such as this one in Miami by SOS Venezuela fall within nonviolent action
 What began as a protest over violent crime, insecurity and scarcity of basic food stuffs on February 12, 2014 has exploded into a nonviolent democratic resistance to the emerging totalitarian dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban handlers. Questions have been raised about what is going on in Venezuela there are those who still look at it through the prism of party competition but that is a diminishing number.

The best and most succinct way to describe Mohandas Gandhi's vision of nonviolent resistance is the title of a book written by Krishnalal Shridharani, one of his followers: War without violence. Over the past few weeks the debate over nonviolence in the face of the Maduro regime's violent repression in Venezuela has waged over social media.

This is a small contribution to that debate. The video below offers an overview of what is taking place in Venezuela today. The criminal and violent acts by the Maduro regime and its Cuban handlers and the courage of millions of Venezuelans who have taken to the street nonviolently to exercise and rescue their rights and freedoms.

The main points raised by those who either a) despair that nonviolence cannot work against violence or b) that nonviolent actors should have the right to defend themselves using violence when attacked violently make the following arguments/assumptions:

Assertion #1: Nonviolent resisters are unarmed and helpless. All the protesters have is their courage and their faith.

Response: Non-violent resistance is an armed struggle but its weapons are not deployed to do violence or kill. These arms are  psychological, social, economic and political weapons. Gene Sharp argues with much evidence "that this is ultimately more powerful against oppression, injustice and tyranny then violence."

On International Women's Day Venezuelan women marched across the country
Assertion #2: That this is a civil war and the opposition needs to arm itself and fight claiming that pacifism is weakness.

Response: First, a common error especially in Spanish, is to confuse nonviolence with pacifism. Pacifism means to remain passive before an injustice neither cooperate with it or attack it. Non-violent resistance is "war without violence."  It is true that the Maduro regime is committing criminal and violent acts against nonviolent activists. However, because the Venezuelans freedom movement has maintained a nonviolent stance the violence of the government is de-legitimizing Maduro both domestically and internationally.

To engage in an armed struggle with the Maduro+Castro regime would be a strategic mistake of the first order. First, they are experts in violence and warfare. Secondly, and most importantly the Democratic Resistance has an asymmetric advantage over the dictatorship because of its nonviolence.  It is precisely for that reason that the Venezuelan dictatorship wants to push the resistance into a violent posture because then it would be able to rationalize and escalate its violence. In Syria the Assad regime was losing badly until elements of the military joined the nonviolent opposition and turned it violent. The response was a huge escalation in violence and Assad firmly in control.

University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.”

Finally the nonviolent democratic resistance is a popular movement and not controlled or financed by any foreign government.  Nonviolent resistance movements can dismantle dictatorships without outside aide. The same cannot be said of violent movements. Violent movements confronting a government need foreign assistance in order to have a chance of being successful.

Women for Life have made specific demands for the end of Regime violence
Assertion 3:  Legitimate self-defense is a moral and legitimate response.

Response: Morally and legally there is a right to self-defense, even when it is violent, but in a nonviolent struggle  the resort to violence has been taken off the table, even in the case of self-defense. This requires greater creativity on the part of the nonviolent resisters on how to defend themselves nonviolently.  There are options and they need to be explored and applied. Gene Sharp outlined 198. The democratic opposition parties have maintained their nonviolent posture as have the main student movements while at the same time maintaining their commitment to remain in the streets protesting and pursuing justice against those engaged in and ordering the killing, torture, and arbitrary detention of nonviolent activists. 

Concrete efforts have been mounted to see that oppressors are denied visas and their bank accounts in foreign countries frozen. This is one example of non-violent self-defense.  

Another is to document the atrocities and share it with the rest of Venezuela and the world to expose the perpetrators of such acts to national and international public opinion. Below is a brief and effective video that explains what is going on in under two minutes. Please share it with others. This is another method of self defense.

Conclusion: Nonviolent action has a strategic advantage that dramatically increases the chances for success but like in any war what determines victory is having a grand strategy with realizable objectives, sound tactics, and the people to carry it out. Nonviolent action has a proven track record of dismantling dictatorships. I hope and pray that the democratic resistance in Venezuela has thought it out and is on its way to victory over Maduro+Castro.

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