Thoughts on Venezuela: II
What had seemed a decrescendo in the fight for the future of Venezuela appears merely to have been an entr’acte. Indeed, in light of the vertiginous sequence of events that have occurred over the span of the past few days, one can be forgiven his dizziness and his inattention. I think most of us up here in America, complacently petty though thanklessly safe, have been caught slightly off-guard by the acuity of the situation that’s emerged down there. Certainly, the recent lull in the events in Venezuela had caused me, an admittedly distracted American auditor of foreign affairs, to neglect to the point of my own injury the history being made in that state. Verily, it’s a state whose population is treading ever closer to the ledge of civil war—an event that could not only tear asunder the continent, but affect us immensely on our shores. For these and many other reasons, the situation is one from which we ought not to deviate our focus. All the same, during the course of what was a brief but clearly misleading repose, I’d almost forgotten entirely about what’s been happening not a few thousand miles to the south.
Yet the pace seems once again to have hastened and the stakes have again been raised. It’s known that liberty requires celerity and that democracy dies if it’s made to wait. And so, the second and possibly final chapter of this struggle—which has become a years-long and intractable contest between the sovereignty of the individual and the tyranny of the state—has gotten fully underway.
The mise en scene, melting and shifting in reaction to the political tumult and in anticipation of the coming summer months, appears at least temporarily to be set. It includes Caracas and Maracaibo, the cities and the rural towns in whose circuitous streets and mountainous overpasses thousands of demonstrators have gathered in frustration and in protest. As for the actors, we’ll soon see them—possibly for the final time—climb upon the stage and play their concluding parts. Said players are many, of whom we name Nicholas Maduro (the incumbent and successor to Chavez), Juan Guaido (the dissident and the democrat effectuating the coup), Putin and the Russians, Castro—or at least his specter—and the Cubans, the Venezuelan military, the Venezuelan people, the interested contiguous states (chiefly Colombia and Brazil), and the omnipresent exemplar and administer of the western hemisphere—America.
That which awaits us, breathless audience that we are, is one of two outcomes: Venezuela will end in tragedy or democracy. Should Maduro succeed, Venezuela returns to its status quo ante—a dictatorial socialist regime. It returns to squalor, to indigence, to the consumption of dogs for nutrition, and to the suspension of hope. It returns to a petro-oligarchic state—wretched, immiserated, and failed in every sense of the word. If, however, he’s vanquished, the possibility for a new day and a reason to look forward begins.
That said, we must first look back. For nearly two years, though most acutely in the course of the past six months, the tension in this country have swelled. It does so now to the very point of eruption. Tropical, tyrannical, and now in a state of climactic strain and tumescence, Venezuela is at a juncture that will determine not only its immediate course, but its future for generations to come. The trajectory of the country—be it toward perpetual immiseration or possible flourishing—will be determined in the coming days and weeks.
But a few months ago, the situation in Venezuela was uncomfortably hot. It’s since cooled, but, like a capricious furnace, it’s heated itself once again. Juan Guaido, the thirty-five-year-old claimant to the presidential seat, arose at that time in the form of an unexpected opponent to the Maduro regime. With an air of intrepidity so much lacking in the constitution of our modern political man, Guaido emerged as the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela in early 2019. Then, buttressed with the recognition of over half a hundred nations, he declared himself—by way of polling data and popular appeal—the duly-elected president of the entire state.
Unamiable to so ambitious and, dare I say, presumptuous a claim, the incumbent Maduro was not in the least impressed. Upon learning of Guaido’s pretensions to replace him as the legitimate head of the Venezuelan state, Maduro rejected the upstart outright. Not only that, he went so far as to detain him for a brief while, to freeze his assets and cash reserves, to impede his domestic movements, to prohibit completely his foreign ones, to surround his dwelling with armed, minatory men, and to accuse him spuriously for having helped foreign nations infiltrate Venezuela’s internal affairs. Yet even in the face of these impediments (which are, if not insuperable, forebodingly quite steep), Guaido has been able to galvanize the country behind him.
This is the phenomenon for which the west might’ve hoped. It’s not only encouraging, but fantastic. If the latest polling data are to be believed, Guaido’s endeavor has the support of about eighty percent of the country. His approval rating—and who could disapprove of so noble a pursuit—stands at an impressive and enviable sixty-one percent. As is known, percentages seldom reach such lofty heights unless manipulated from within. Thus, we see autocrats like Putin, Erdogan, and Sisi flaunting numbers as incredibly (and I do mean incredibly, as in beyond the reasonable bounds of belief) high as these. Yet Guaido is most assuredly in possession of the people’s ardent support without the employment of any guileful machination, all while he works to change his nation’s ossified and repressive system from without.
It’s for this very reason, that of his distance from the inner orchestrations of the national government, that Guaido finds himself in a potentially fraught situation. Glaringly, he hasn’t the one vital asset of which any serious opposition leader worth his salt is in need. That singular asset, the one in whose absence no progress toward regime change can be made, is the military (or, at the very least, a militia. But Maduro and Chavez obviated this potentiality. Availed of the use of its own private guns, a militia is the last defense against an overly-zealous and powerful military state. But, prescient as it is wicked, the regime deemed such ownership of guns by non-military personnel illegal. Shipments of armaments from abroad would be Guaido’s only other option).
Verily, this alone makes Guaido’s margin of error extraordinarily thin. The guns, at least at the time of this writing, evidently aren’t on his side. While he openly solicits the army’s support, it hasn’t appeared appreciably to have moved anywhere closer toward him. That said, in the process, he’s very publicly announced himself a traitor to those in whose pockets the guns and the explosives and the handcuffs rest. This he’s done quite vocally to the regime under whose auspices the military currently enjoys its employment. Not only that, the military is enjoying in this heightened moment of duress an ever-higher salary—a compensation it would be crazy in these impecunious times to forsake for a rebel’s cause. If Guaido proves incapable of convincing the national army to defect from Maduro to him, the failure would spell his and his movement’s doom. The second act would close as feared.
Precisely this seems to be the issue at hand. Appearing to be more bloviator than Bolivar, Guaido hasn’t secured the military’s loyalty. He’s spoken of the imminence of his doing so, but it simply hasn’t materialized. On the contrary, images have been released of chief military personnel and Maduro—the man around whom they stand in devoted protection—amicably as one. The state seems united; Guaido uncertain. Hitherto, the military simply hasn’t taken to Guaido’s call, and the possibility that it will doesn’t seem likely. And this might be the Venezuelan coda: a failed coup d’état and the perpetuation of a madman. We’ll know if this is to be the case soon; the second and final act in Venezuela is accelerating toward its end.