An Open Letter to the LASA Executive Committee on the Situation in Venezuela

A group of former and current members of the Latin American Studies Association have issued a statement challenging claims from the body’s Executive Committee that Venezuela has taken an authoritarian turn.


As members of the Latin American Studies Association, we take issue with the Executive Committee’s April 2017 statement on Venezuela. The statement condemns the Venezuelan government for “a decisive step towards authoritarian rule,” referring to the March 29 decision of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (Supreme Court) to temporarily revoke the powers of the Venezuelan National Assembly in response to the Assembly’s seating of three opposition legislators accused of fraud. We too are critical of certain actions of the Venezuelan government, including the TSJ’s March 29 decision – which, we were happy to observe, the TSJ mostly reversed on April 1. But we find the Executive Committee’s statement highly misleading. In singling out the Nicolás Maduro government for criticism, and ignoring the threats to Venezuelan democracy and peace represented by the right-wing opposition and U.S. government, the statement seriously distorts the situation. This omission runs the risk of justifying further U.S. intervention in the country and lending cover to an opposition with a long record of antidemocratic behavior.

Many factors have contributed to the grave economic and political crisis in Venezuela. Some are longstanding and structural, such as the inherent weaknesses of an oil-dependent economy. Other factors include the hostility of most private businesses to the Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro governments, an often-violent opposition and U.S. government that have never accepted the electoral legitimacy of Chávez or Maduro, and – yes – certain actions and inactions of the government itself, which, despite facilitating advances in social welfare and participatory governance since 1999, has mismanaged the currency and done too little to promote the diversification and democratization of the economy.

Unfortunately, the Executive Committee’s statement implies that the Maduro government bears primary blame for the current crisis. It also perpetuates the common right-wing narrative about Venezuelan “political prisoners,” failing to acknowledge that most of those prisoners are incarcerated for committing or inciting violence against the government and leftist civilians. We would expect this kind of Cold War framing from Fox News or the New York Times, but not from the LASA leadership.

A more balanced assessment of the Venezuelan crisis was issued by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on April 20. Guterres’ statement “call[s] on the Government of Venezuela and the opposition to engage sincerely to reactivate dialogue efforts,” and “urge[s] that all efforts be made to lower tensions and prevent further clashes.” We echo the spirit of Guterres’s statement, and further call for the cessation of all U.S. hostilities toward Venezuela – including the sanctions currently in place against Venezuelan officials, the “democracy promotion” programs that funnel money to right-wing opposition forces, and all other forms of intervention.


The undersigned current and former members of LASA:

  1. Serena Ahmed, Independent scholar

  2. César Aponte, Casa de Cronopios

  3. Robert Austin, University of Sydney

  4. William Aviles, University of Nebraska at Kearney

  5. Dario Azzellini, Murphy Institute, CUNY

  6. Marc Becker, Truman State University

  7. William Bollinger, California State University Los Angeles

  8. Rosalind Bresnahan, California State University (retired)

  9. Raul Burbano, Common Frontiers

  10. Ronald Chilcote, University of California Riverside

  11. George Ciccariello-Maher, Drexel University

  12. Amy Cooper, Saint Louis University

  13. Tomás Crowder-Taraborrelli, Sosa University of America

  14. Héctor Cruz Feliciano, Universidad Autónoma de Nicaragua

  15. Jorge Enrique Cuéllar, Yale University

  16. Isaac Curtis, University of Pittsburgh

  17. Jonathan Dettman, University of Nebraska at Kearney

  18. Monica Dias Martins, Universidade Estadual do Ceará, Brasil

  19. Steve Ellner, Latin American Perspectives

  20. Linda Farthing, Independent scholar

  21. Sujatha Fernandes, University of Sydney

  22. Edgar Iván Gutiérrez, Riverside City College

  23. John L. Hammond, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

  24. Richard L. Harris, University of Hawai’i at Hilo

  25. Kevin Henderson, University of Massachusetts Amherst

  26. Forrest Hylton, Northwestern University

  27. Clara E. Irazábal Zurita, University of Missouri – Kansas City

  28. Dale L. Johnson, Rutgers University (emeritus)

  29. George Leddy, Latin American Perspectives

  30. Fernando Leiva, University of California Santa Cruz

  31. Rowan Lubbock, Birkbeck College, University of London

  32. Stanley Malinowitz, Universidad Nacional de Colombia

  33. Liz Mason-Deese, University of Mary Washington

  34. Angus McNelly, Queen Mary, University of London

  35. Ronaldo Munck, Dublin City university

  36. Simeon J. Newman, University of Michigan

  37. Richard Parra, Peruvian writer

  38. Ivan Pojomovsky, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

  39. Shahid Qadir, Third World Quarterly

  40. Peter Ranis, Graduate Center, CUNY

  41. Tathagatan Ravindran, Universidad Icesi, Colombia

  42. Gerardo Rénique, City College of New York, CUNY

  43. William Robinson, University of California at Santa Barbara

  44. Alexander Sanson, Goucher College

  45. Naomi Schiller, Brooklyn College, CUNY

  46. T.M. Scruggs, University of Iowa (emeritus)

  47. Diana Carolina Sierra Becerra, University of Michigan

  48. Pablo Silva, University of California Davis

  49. Victor Silverman, Pomona College

  50. Susan Spronk, University of Ottawa

  51. Richard Stahler-Sholk, Eastern Michigan University

  52. Luis Suárez Salazar, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba

  53. Sinclair Thomson, New York University

  54. Miguel Tinker Salas, Pomona College

  55. Harry E. Vanden, University of South Florida

  56. Jonah Walters, Rutgers University

  57. Clare Weber, Latin American Perspectives

  58. Kristi M. Wilson, Soka University of America

  59. Tamar Diana Wilson, Latin American Perspectives

  60. Tony Wood, New York University

  61. Kevin A. Young, University of Massachusetts Amherst