Monday, September 5, 2016

Nonviolent resistance in Cuba and Venezuela: Case against violent flanks

 "Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it."  Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Oslo (1964)
"I want to denounce North America  for the manipulation of the Venezuelan Opposition"

Carlos Alberto Montaner has written an essay that asks an important question: "Do massive marches serve a purpose?" which also analyses the differences between the Venezuelan and Cuban democratic oppositions in their respective countries:
In Cuba, the opposition was liquidated by gunfire in the first five years of the dictatorship. There was resistance, but the authorities killed some 7,000 people and jailed more than 100,000. Two decades later, in the late 1970s, when the cage had been hermetically shut, they began to release them. The Castros have held Cuban society in their fist for half a century now. The Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi taught them how to lock the padlock. Today, Raúl has perfected his repressive strategy. It was the one the Chavists futilely tried to use in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan opposition holds on precariously in a virtual zone of the state apparatus. They are mayors, governors or deputies. They hold posts but neither power nor a budget. Chavism has deprived them of resources and authority, although, because Chavism emerged from a democratic setup, it has not been easy for it to build a cage. According to surveys, the Chavists are opposing 80 percent of the population, including a good portion of the D and E sectors — that is, the poorest.
Both in Cuba and in Venezuela the democratic opposition in its vast majority have chosen to pursue a nonviolent strategy, but their respective starting points are radically different. In Cuba the regime arrived in power through a violent revolution replacing a dictator, while in Venezuela the regime took power through the ballot box. Both sought to install totalitarianism, but in the case of Venezuela the residue of democracy has made it more difficult. Another factor is that in Cuba the opposition to the regime during the first seven years was a violent resistance with guerillas in the Escambray region. Despite their courage they where either exterminated or imprisoned as Montaner describes above.

However, it was the violent nature of this resistance that made it easier for the regime to consolidate its totalitarian rule and "hermetically" seal the island, but less than a decade later a nonviolent alternative arose with the founding of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights on January 28, 1976. 

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 and there study suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.” 

This is why Fulgencio Batista's authoritarian regime (1952 - 1958) was more susceptible to being violently overthrown, because it was less brutal than the Castro regime (1959 - present) that followed it. However, the Castro regime though able to systematically exterminate violent resistance has been unable to do the same with its nonviolent adversaries.

Meanwhile in Venezuela the opposition from the beginning decided to pursue nonviolent resistance because it had the hindsight of the successes of nonviolence in Eastern Europe, Chile, the Philippines and South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

Montaner's essay makes the following argument and analysis that calls for further reflection :
Nevertheless, the opposition lacks the muscle needed to force Maduro’s overthrow and the system’s replacement. In general, the oppositionists are peaceful people, trained for 40 years in the sweet exercise of electoral democracy. What could they do? They could march. Bang on pots and pans. Stage peaceful protests. It was the only way to express their opposition in the desperate situation in which they found themselves.
They could fill the public squares in the manner of Gandhi and Luther King, but against an adversary much more unscrupulous than the Anglo-Saxons. They have done so, dozens of times. It was a civilized way to confront totalitarian harassment. The people who kill, the scoundrels, the organized criminals are on the side of Chavism.
The Venezuelan opposition is being led by a student movement that has a moral authority that traditional political parties no longer have. It was the moral bankruptcy of the political parties in Venezuela which paved the way for Chavez in the first place. The student movement studied strategic nonviolence and carried out successful nonviolent campaigns over the past decade. This upset the Chavistas who attacked Gene Sharp, and the Albert Einstein Institution accusing both of being agents of subversion for being nonviolent.

Perhaps the Chavistas and their Castro regime handlers understand something that Montaner missed in his analysis:  The opposition doesn't lack the muscle to overthrow Maduro but the strategic plan and tactical creativity to replace the current regime with massive popular support they already have. On September 1, 2016 in Caracas the opposition was able to mobilize over a million Venezuelans while the Maduro regime could only mobilize a small fraction of that number.

The implication that a nonviolent struggle against the Anglo-Saxons would be easier because they are more scrupulous than the Maduro regime doesn't hold up under greater scrutiny.  Non-violent resistance movements successfully challenged regimes equally as unscrupulous as Maduro's in East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Nonviolence not only proved successful against communist regimes in Eastern Germany but also against Nazism. German housewives carried out a successful nonviolent campaign against the Nazi regime in Germany in 1943 taking to Rosenstrasse (Rose St.) to rescue their Jewish husbands.

Despite the accomplishments of nonviolent democratic resistance movements worldwide and in Cuba and Venezuela there has also been a temptation in some quarters to embrace the dubious idea that a nonviolent movement could have a "violent flank" and that this "diversity of tactics" would somehow speed up democratic change.

The example of Syria, where a nonviolent movement made incredible gains only to have a violent flank emerge out of defecting army units, ostensibly to defend nonviolent activists from the violent Assad regime, should serve as a warning. The belief, in some quarters, was that this was inevitable and would speed up the victory over the Syrian dictatorship. The result was just the opposite. Assad's regime was able to consolidate itself and the body count of the conflict exploded and radically violent elements overtook the violent resistance.

"Violent flanks" and the use of the so-called "diversity of tactics" reduces mobilization and decreases the probability of success for a resistance movement. Strategic thinker Gene Sharper put it succinctly when he said: "using violence is a stupid decision."

This would explain why both the Castro and Maduro regime's manufacture evidence and constantly accuse nonviolent activists of being violent ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. First and most importantly if the charges are believed it helps to reduce popular mobilization against these regimes which is the greatest threat to their power. Secondly, it raises questions that can impact international solidarity and support. Third, it allows these regimes to infiltrate agents to carry out violent acts that de-legitimize the movement placing it on the defensive in damage control mode.

However there is a not-so secret tactic that democracies are largely immune to but that is fatal to the most repressive dictatorships. This weapon is difficult to wield, but incredibly powerful: humor.

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