The Washington Post reported a couple of weeks ago that Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, referred to the international coverage of Venezuela and its problems as ‘’propaganda against our country’’ and that international media is waging a ‘’psychological war’’. This language sounds familiar when one thinks about how similar regimes usually refer to the United States and the ‘’West’’ as ‘’interventionist’’ or ‘’imperialistic’’. However, it is not by coincidence that a country like Venezuela, with a tight relation of coexistence with Cuba, would construct such a narrative portraying Venezuela as the ‘’victim’’ of the United States and the West.
As Miskimmon and O’Loughlin argue, Strategic Narratives are ‘’a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of the past, present and future of international politics to shape the behavior of domestic and international actors’’. In this shared meaning, the Venezuelan regime aims to extend its influence at home and abroad by portraying the United States and the ‘’West’’ as the bad guys, and countries like Venezuela as the ‘’victims’’. From an initial analysis, the United States’ strategy, from a communications point of view, does not help counter the Maduro regime’s narrative as recent sanctions to key Venezuelan politicians feed the discourse of ‘’victimization’’. However, it is difficult for any country to avoid policies, in such circumstances as Venezuela is facing today, which will not have an impact in the country’s victim narrative. In my opinion, as the situation in Venezuela keeps deteriorating and the regime’s policies have caused the crisis to become not only political, but most importantly humanitarian, countries’ foreign policies’ towards Venezuela will inevitably become stricter as a response. Although these needed reactions will feed the ‘’victim’’ narrative that the Venezuelan regime will tighten its grip to, as it will not take the blame for what’s happening, weaker or subtle actions by foreign countries are not sufficient any longer.
Since 1999, Hugo Chavez – who is Maduro’s predecessor, leader of the ‘’Bolivarian Revolution’’ and of the ‘’Socialism of the XXI Century’’-, started developing a victim narrative that would grow stronger as his policies converted the country into the dictatorship that it is today. Chavez took direct advice from Fidel Castro and the Cuban regime to shape many policies and characteristics of the Venezuela he wanted to create. Among these, was the victim narrative in which the United States and the West are to blame for a big part of the country’s problems. Although for many years Chavez was able to not only convince a large part of Venezuelans that his policies were ideal and that the United States and the West were at fault for many of the country’s problems, he was also able to gain followers across the region who used the same policies and narrative. However, this is not the case anymore. With Maduro, the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated and the support from countries across the region has decreased, as many blame the Maduro and his regime for the crisis.
Such was the case of last week’s Summit of the Americas, where Bolivia and Cuba were among the few countries that backed up the Venezuelan president and rejected all the other countries’ declarations against the regime. Although Maduro’s allies were loyal to the Venezuelan government in the Summit, there was a majority of opposition to the current policies by the Venezuelan regime, as well as to the upcoming elections for being unconstitutional and in favor of the regime. Maduro was disinvited to the Summit of the Americas by the host country, and although he had previously said that he would still attend, Maduro announced a couple of days before that he would not be attending. Peru disinviting him, the U.S. and regional countries’ declarations during the Summit against the regime and upcoming sanctions by the U.S., EU and other countries from the region, all feed the ‘’victim’’ narrative that the Venezuelan government is using more and more. However, such policies are what neighboring countries should keep doing to allow for democracy to be restored in Venezuela.
The next few months will be crucial to Venezuelans, and to the country’s relations with the region and the world. Moreover, the next few months will be critical for the international community to establish appropriate policies against the Venezuelan regime and in favor of its people. As Venezuelans are fleeing the country in mass, the crisis keeps deepening and spreading across its borders. It will become very hard for the Venezuelan ‘’victim narrative’’ to keep being successful, especially as so many Venezuelans, now considered refugees, have migrated to the region, the U.S and Europe, and are giving first hand testimony of the miserable conditions in which Venezuelans are living. If Venezuelans were happy and able to lead normal lives in their home country, they wouldn’t be leaving Venezuela to find opportunities elsewhere. Although policies against the Venezuelan regime might seem to help the ‘’victim narrative’’ this narrative is no longer sustainable and foreign countries should follow the steps of those countries that rejected the Venezuelan dictatorship at the Summit of the Americas.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.