The situation that Venezuela is experiencing gives us to think how the evils of yesteryear are reborn in history as if humanity did not learn anything from them. In this context, it is a voice of alert that has settled the vision of legitimizing the government of Nicolás Maduro, relativizing the constitutional letter, advocating democracy without counterweights as the ultimate goal of a part of the Latin American left. And even more in the name of Simón Bolívar. Although dissenting voices have arisen within the left parties, it seems that the majority view that undermines human rights and articulates a discourse of defence of the “Bolivarian” status quo, again blaming the interventionism of the evils that their own policies They have propitiated. In this context, the debate of the left and right is short-sighted, and the defence of freedom as the exclusive patrimony of political liberalism hides the deep Republican roots that underlie the Western enlightened project.
It is in this valuable context to remember the work in the history of ideas promoted by the Anglo-Saxon tradition by authors such as Quentin Skinner or Phillip Pettit when it comes to recovering the vision of republicanism about government, good governance. From this perspective, from the Roman classics to Renaissance authors such as Machiavelli, or modernists such as Hobbes, Locke (and even Adam Smith), from a Republican perspective, political institutions must be oriented towards the problem of non-domination, empowering citizens in control of the exercise of power. Thus, the public sphere, the Res publica, demarcates a plane of neutrality, considering the participation of citizens in the acceptance of government policies. The institutions are therefore aimed at guaranteeing the independence of citizens against political power, monarchy, deepening community relations, public life. And that is what has not happened in Venezuela.
It is in this context that public life is threatened by the tension that comes with the exercise of freedom. On the one hand, as a space of competition for private projects and, on the other, as a space that must be protected by public institutions to emancipate them from the dependence imposed, in practice, by some citizens on others as restrictions on their freedom. From this point of view, restricting the freedom of some is a condition for the possibility of guaranteeing the freedom of others. At the bottom of this political and moral philosophy, we find an answer to the debacle that the Venezuelan people are going through, where we observe the factionalism that, for centuries, has been a symptom of political corruption. It is not only about the restriction of economic freedoms, nor about the defence of democracy without restrictions. It’s about independence.
What happens in Venezuela is the result of the construction of dependency institutions, of tyrannical domination, with a military force without counterweights at the service of an elite that has made its own the exploitation of economic and institutional resources with a kleptocratic logic: a monarchy corrupt of the 21st century. And this arises on the basis of a moral background: they are institutions that destroy the “political virtue”, which Bolivar himself mentions in his Cartagena Manifesto (1812) in the face of the violence and anarchy unleashed at the time of Independence: “[ Yet our fellow citizens are not in a position to exercise their rights on their own and widely because they lack the political virtues that characterize the true republican “(1). For the same reason, as Bolivar diagnosed more than two centuries ago, without these civic virtues (which republicanism places at the centre of public life) the peaceful institutional exit of Venezuela will not be possible. And without institutions that restrict political power, violence will be the natural state.
(1) Simon Bolivar, “Memory addressed to the citizens of New Granada by a Caraqueño” [Manifesto of Cartagena], in Doctrina del Libertador, 3rd ed. Comp. notes and chronology of Manuel Pérez Vila. Caracas, Ayacucho Library, 1985, 12. In Jaksic, Iván (2003). The Republic of Order: Simón Bolívar, Andrés Bello and the transformations of the political thought of independence. History. V. 36, 191-218.
Unauthorized translation of the original article in Spanish, published on January 31 (2019), in the newspaper El Desconcierto by José de la Cruz Garrido.