Sunday, March 09, 2003
What Real Friends Can Do For Venezuela

Thursday, January 30, 2003; 2:47 PM

In order to understand the crisis in Venezuela, one must live it. There is no
doubt about that.

Last week, representatives of the polarized forces that are ripping that South
American nation apart made their pilgrimage to Washington. Their only shared
intention, it seems, was to act out their drama on a world stage.

If their words were any indication, a solution to the problem is as distant as
ever. Each side has mastered the fine art of pointing the finger at the other.
It is they, one said of the other, who have used a position of privilege to call
for discord, violence and death. Both seemed determined not to make the least
concession to the other, who, after all, was the true enemy of democracy.
Each side, of course, was making an effort to offer its best diagnosis of the
crisis. If the symptoms are not recognized, Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton
explained, how can one prescribe a cure? True.

Yet one was left with the impression that both were spending far more time,
passion and talent revealing the depth of their suffering than seeking a salve
to soothe it.

The two sides seemed to agree most on one complaint: The world fails to
understand their dilemma. No surprise then that they both endorsed, as the first
step of international response to a crisis that could no longer be ignored, the
creation of a Group of Friends to take part in negotiations between the
Venezuelan government and the opposition.

The group might satisfy that desire for international attention. But more
critically, it should make everyone realize that world attention and
understanding does not necessarily translate into adopting wholesale the view of
one side or the other.

Various Washington analysts concurred this week that the group could be
especially helpful in restoring confidence to the discussions and pressing
Venezuelans to alter their apocalyptic rhetoric. It also could exert pressure to
explore compromise solutions and help to reinforce them--although it is hard to
imagine any pressure greater than that imposed in the last two months by the
Venezuelan opposition's devastating national strike.

It is too early to tell how successful the Friends will be. Somewhat
predictably, the initial meeting of its foreign ministers and their deputies
here last week ended with few concrete results.

More importantly, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, speaking on behalf of
the six member states (Brazil, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Portugal and the United
States), sent forth one very essential message: Solutions to the problems in
Venezuela must come from Venezuelans. That message may seem simplistic. Yet the
point here is that the Group of Friends could prove to be useless especially if
its existence becomes yet another excuse for inaction.

During the 1990s, many Colombians looked abroad for solutions. Worn down by an
internal conflict that had spun out of control, many looked especially to the
United States as the only source of hope for a solution. At the end of the day,
however, with Washington unwilling to be the savior and their own internal
crisis worsening, the Colombians seemed to recognize the need to do more for

In situations like the one in Venezuela, self-examination is not easy. It is
easier, even comforting, to look abroad and grab convenient, predictable,
ever-assuring allies. President Hugo Chavez seems to have just such a find in
the Cuban leader Fidel Castro; and, curiously but not surprisingly, the
Venezuelan opposition has found its own version of the same in Castro's
archenemy--the Cuban exile community, especially of Miami.

Castro and the exiles are neither friends in need nor friends in deed. Their
approach to their own country's situation has resulted in a diplomatic impasse
four decades long. Given the level of tension present now, Venezuela needs open
minds on the sidelines, not cheerleaders. Of what value are friends more
interested in pulling apart the two sides than bringing them together?
The intensity of Venezuela's strike appeared to be subsiding this week but this
is no time to declare winners or losers. A true victory won't be something
claimed but something gained. The Group of Friends might help Venezuelans
realize the need for another type of sacrifice--the one that brings them
together instead of tearing them apart.

Marcela Sanchez's e-mail address is
(c) 2003 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive