The critical situation Venezuela is going through has spread all over media headlines, quite a difference from previous years when the crisis-hit oil-producing country was still much regarded by the international community as a stable democracy. Even the United Nations thinks that there are “remains” left of democracy to save, while the country is subjected to the abuse of an unconstitutional body, the National Constituent Assembly, called by the regime to definitely wipe-out any trace of democratic procedures.
It is appalling to witness the progressive dismantling of the remaining democratic institutions, like the National Assembly (legislative body), and the assault on the Attorney General’s office, but not as much as realizing that there are very few independent ones left. The Supreme Court is one the most corrupt institutions and a tool the regime has not hesitated to use to advance in the consolidation of a totalitarian system where the dominant fraction eliminates any contention to its power.
The current crisis is the result of more than a decade of efforts being put in imposing a model of State control, “made in Cuba”. The successful technological assimilation of a “know-how” crafted throughout almost sixty years of tyranny, gave Cuba the opportunity to escape another “special period”, that with the looming financial crisis in Venezuela, seems all but inevitable for the Caribbean regime.
The swift deterioration of the country cannot be seen as the result of the dropping oil prices or the recently enforced sanctions by the Trump administration. This is the result of years of mismanagement, no doubt, but also of a well-defined strategy to destroy the economy, weaken society, and gain institutional control through electoral processes at first, and later by judicial decisions. It is quite difficult to undertake that this level of destruction was not intentional when it is precisely what has given Nicolas Maduro a hand in his challenge with the lasting democratic forces in the country.
This path to a totalitarian regime would have been impossible without the involvement of the armed forces. Their role has been central to the progression of the authoritarian model, a decision made by Hugo Chavez long before he passed was to give enough power to the Military as a guarantee of loyalty to the regime, allowing high-ranking officials to financially benefit from corruption and public resources management as a way to control them. This has been part of a culture that cannot be ignored, the nature of modern armed forces in Venezuela is one inevitably associated to that of rent-seeking political actors populating the system.
Hugo Chavez was in no way a visionary, he just happened to have the best authoritarianism advisory board oil revenues can pay for, and he certainly took advantage of the investment. The greatest enemy Chavez had was never in the Opposition forces, it was rather the voracity of the political groups that surrounded him, and yet, the infighting has not been enough to weaken Maduro’s regime, they have a clear purpose, and that is to hold on to power to exercise it.
Under other circumstances, the split between Luisa Ortega, the Attorney General, and the regime, would have taken a toll on the stability of the government, but the institutions, with the exception of the National Assembly, are under control of the regime. The differences among the numerous factions pale in the face of the possibility of losing power. There is no stronger incentive for Maduro and rival groups to stick together, than the threat to be indicted for human rights abuses, corruption or drug trafficking. They will hold on -together- to power, at any cost, and this includes the military since they also have pending accounts with international justice for human rights violations and drug trafficking.
As critical as the situation is, the perspective of Maduro abandoning power is less probable, even more after months of massive protests came to an end after the fraudulent National Constituent Assembly took over. The attempts to broker a dialogue as a solution to the crisis, steered by former Spain head of government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, have only added despair and contributed to discrediting, even more, the opposition, compromising one of its most relevant political prisoners in this failed initiative.
The problem is that a dialogue is insufficient, it will not only keep Maduro -and the Military- in power, but also debilitate, if not disappear, the Opposition as a credible actor. The regime has the Supreme Court and the fraudulent National Constituent Assembly taking the steps towards this direction: the number of political prisoners has increased alarmingly, and the numbers keep mounting; there is an upsurge of political refugees, including most recently the new Supreme Court justices, Mayors and the Attorney General, that had to flee the country due to government persecution. The regime has demonstrated to be strong and in control, once more they have surmounted a crisis. The question that remains to be answered is for how long.
It will depend on how much more the Military keeps supporting Maduro, or when will they completely take over political power, that seems to be the next step rather than a transition to democracy. There is no evidence that chavismo or the Military have any commitment to a project other than authoritarianism. There is an increasing fear that a totalitarian system will displace Venezuela’s dying democracy. With an entire country going through hunger and scarcity, health services collapse, and violent crimes outburst, there is very little hope a new wave of massive protest will take place in the near future, instead, a rise in migration is more likely to be expected.
This is probably what has encouraged the regional interest in the Venezuelan crisis, the thousands of people leaving the country is an indicator of a vast migration crisis in the making, and a humanitarian one as well. The regional players are taking the steps -too little, too late- to prevent a massive exodus, trying to raise awareness of the situation, and in the intent to avoid the consequences of an unwanted wave of migrants. This was a crisis long time anticipated, some have voiced their concerns over the seize of democracy, and the progressive deterioration of basic freedoms, but very few cared to listen. Now that it appears to be too late, Venezuela is bordering a failed society, and the international community seems incapable of responding to the human toll of this disaster. Venezuela, a country that in 2015 was awarded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for its fight against hunger, is now being witness to babies dying of malnutrition. There is a shared responsibility in all of this, those who supported the so-called revolution, and those who chose silence.
The future of the country seems dim, the best years of our lives were spent fighting an atrocious system that left us without any sense of safety. Our struggle is to recover a sense of belonging but in a different geography. The one country that we used to call home, was swept away by a mob, a cartel, that has claimed victory over the lives and souls of millions. Our only hope is that those who supported Hugo Chavez and continue to back Nicolas Maduro, can live with the deaths by malnutrition, by diphtheria, by military repression, and the immense misery to which the regime has condemned Venezuela.