03/12/2014 09:43 am ET Updated May 12, 2014

Unasur and Venezuela

Although some were violent, last year's protests in Brazil did not prompt regional or international institutions or groups of foreign ministers to call upon Brasilia to make this or that political reform. Sure, the markets asked their usual questions, and uncertainty about the World Cup -- always an issue -- became more acute. But unlike Venezuela, Brazil's essential democratic bona fides were never fundamentally questioned, even if the government's accountability to Brazilian citizens remains front and center in this election year.

Venezuela's protests and the government's response are vulnerable to calls for international scrutiny precisely because for years now, polarization has been part of both Chavista and opposition strategy. Under those circumstances, participation by outside actors in conflict resolution there can hardly be equated with bald intervention.

Unasur's meeting today in Chile, a country where protests and democracy seem to coexist quite productively, will tell us a lot about how far South Americans are or are not willing to go in talking to one another about matters traditionally considered to be sovereign. We already saw last week at the OAS a virtual consensus that the Maduro government deserves the benefit of the doubt. So perhaps there's no surprise coming in Santiago.

But hopefully Unasur will also have something to say about the legitimate and illegitimate use of force by governments against their own populations. Joe Biden will have left Chile by the time the region's foreign ministers convene. His absence, like the absence of Washington from most South American regional diplomacy, should signal space for a discussion that is not clouded by the suggestion that conflict in Venezuela is an American plot. The death of a Chilean resident of Caracas may help move the conversation away from such distractions.

History makes these assumptions very easy in Latin America, of course. The global context weighs heavily as well: a cursory scan of editorial opinion in the Latin American press suggests it is tempting (albeit confusing and unhelpful) to look to Putin's Crimea strategy and to the American and European play in Kiev, for narrative references of hegemony and resistance. (Or both, depending upon your perspective.) There are many differences between Venezuela and Ukraine, but the most striking is precisely how little influence international actors seem to have with Caracas.

I applaud the rise of regional institutions that are no longer dominated by Washington, especially if they offer more than the usual "bla bla" summitry. The United States does not benefit from being seen as either the cause of or cure for every malady in the region. I get that neither Brazil nor any other country in the region has an interest in taking on such burdens. But I cringe imagining yet another Washington Post editorial bemoaning the failure of leadership emanating from any capital, whether Washington or Brasilia.

This article was originally published in Portuguese in Folha de São Paulo. It is originally available here.