As popular resistance to a repressive and corrupt regime continues to grow, it is important to remember many Venezuelans still support President Nicolás Maduro and/or his government. After all, it was corruption and a mostly poor and alienated population ignored by traditional elites that brought Hugo Chávez to power 15 years ago. This government, first under Chávez and now Maduro, has grossly, perhaps criminally, squandered both an unprecedented political mandate and unprecedented oil income.
But despite record inflation, insecurity, and economic scarcity, roughly half of Venezuelans, judging from polls and the December 8, 2013, state and municipal election results, continue to believe they are better off with the status quo. Yes, the United States must continue to condemn violence against peaceful protesters, call out the Venezuelan government’s human rights abuses, and press those who have turned a blind eye (Brazil, the Organization of American States) to take a stand. But we can neither adopt Maduro’s Manichaean depiction of the crisis as a struggle between good revolutionaries and evil fascists, nor succumb to the views of some in the opposition that Venezuela was fine until Chávez came along. To be credible, U.S. rhetoric and actions must recognize the legitimate grievances that Chávez parlayed so effectively into the support that Maduro continues to enjoy. Because whatever government comes next, if it is to be an improvement on the current regime, must respect the aspirations of chavista and opposition equally.