Why you should care
Because the Venezuela crisis is not so black and white.
Venezuela’s National Assembly declared socialist Juan Guaidó the legitimate president of Venezuela on Jan. 23. Almost immediately, American governments dug into their ideological trenches. Left-wing Cuba, Bolivia and Mexico declared support for Nicolás Maduro. The United States, Brazil, Colombia, and Chile announced their recognition of Guaidó’s presidency.
However, a more nuanced international debate very quickly began to take place and numerous center-left and left-wing world leaders have come out in support of Guaidó and the Venezuelan opposition.
For example, last week Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, acknowledged Guaidó’s efforts and called for free elections in Venezuela. This should not come as a surprise, because both Guaidó and Sánchez are members of the Socialist International. Guaidó is a member of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, which has been an official member of the Socialist International since 2014.
The Cold War–style narrative of capitalism versus socialism in Venezuela, perpetuated by Trump, serves as an effective tool of division for Maduro.
In last week’s State of the Union, these facts did not prevent President Donald Trump from painting the events in Venezuela as an epic showdown between socialism and capitalism. Amid uproarious applause from Republicans, Trump talked about recognizing Guaidó. “We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.” Then the punchline, aimed at America’s growing number of democratic Socialists: “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Just days before Trump wielded the Maduro regime’s failures as a political tool, the Socialist International declared the Maduro regime “illegitimate” and said the group “recognizes the efforts of Juan Guaidó … to bring about a transition to democracy, supported by the legitimate National Assembly.”
An incredible void on the matter of Guaidó’s membership in a socialist party has made Trump’s political maneuvering possible. Ever since Guaidó’s swearing-in as interim president, numerous respected media outlets — from The Washington Post to The Economist to The Nation — have painted the same picture of a contest between socialism and capitalism.
This narrative of right versus left has almost been taken for granted. The rare nuanced articles and reports, such as The New York Times’ “Juan Guaidó: Venezuelans, Strength Is in Unity,” are largely written by Venezuelans closer to the real action or by members of the international community.
Perhaps even more glaring than Guaidó’s own socialist party, Maduro’s fiercest opposition comes from the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD or Democratic Unity Roundtable). MUD consists of center, center-left and left-wing political parties. A majority of them subscribe to progressive, social democratic and/or socialist ideologies.
Two of MUD’s most powerful parties, Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era) and Popular Will, are members of the Socialist International. It is MUD, which holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly, that has been in opposition to Maduro since 2015.
To be fair, MUD includes center-right politicians and has reached across the aisle to right-wing parties. However, this confirms the true narrative in Venezuela. Venezuelan Democrats across the ideological spectrum have united in opposition to the dictatorial, authoritarian and, above all else, incompetent Maduro.
World leaders and the international community have begun to mirror the solidarity of Venezuela’s National Assembly in the fight against authoritarianism and dictatorship, regardless of party or economic ideology.
The Cold War–style narrative of capitalism versus socialism in Venezuela, perpetuated by Trump, serves as an effective tool of division for Maduro, Brazil’s neofascist Jair Bolsonaro, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Trump.
The National Assembly is largely considered the last democratically elected body standing in Venezuela, ever since Maduro began jailing opposition leaders and altered the Venezuelan constitution in 2017. Elected officials from dozens of political parties across the ideological spectrum voted to elevate Guaidó.
The truth is far more nuanced and positive than another fight between socialism and capitalism. Donald Trump and the Republican Party must stop feeding this Cold War dichotomy and acknowledge a unique political moment of democratic solidarity in Venezuela, not partisanship.
Read more: This is why cocaine dealers should fear Venezuelan unrest.
Joey Filer is a writer and filmmaker from Chicago.