In Venezuela the rebellion is now widespread and spontaneous, but Juan Manuel Santos could help

In an informal plebiscite, the No to the new constitution proposed by the Maduro regime takes more votes than the president himself in 2013, while a new phenomenon of capillary uprising spreads.

A demonstrator is seen near a graffiti that reads "Hello dictatorship, do you have bread?" while clashing with riot security forces during a strike called to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

"I'll have to go and vote. What else can I do? I need my food stamps and my job," said José Belandria. "The proposed Constituent Assembly will not solve anything, but I am the earner for my family." The PSUV, President Nicolás Maduro's party officially stated that anyone receiving social benefits will need go to the polls to vote — and vote yes — if he or she does not want to lose them. July 30 is the date set by Mr. Maduro to elect the constituents to change the Constitution inherited from Hugo Chávez, the sole way for him to remain in power, but a path opposed by the majority of Venezuelans and the opposition parties.

The procedure would request a referendum, not called because the government would never win it (its approval rate is 20%). That showed clearly on two votes on Sunday 16 July: No results were given for the test vote called by the government; whereas the informal referendum opposing a change of the Constitution won more votes than those reaped by Mr. Maduro in 2013 when he became president (7,505,338).

The State Oil Company requested all employees per email to provide details on their voting stations, and state employees have been "invited" to vote in favor of the government. Null-votes will not be allowed. "I'm a just blue-collar worker, I work for the City Hall, but they cannot threaten. The more so, I will not go to the polls for an illegal Constituent Assembly," said María Carmona.

The new phenomenon within the general mobilization in the hope the 30 July vote will be called back, is a widespread spontaneous rebellion: it happens roadside, street by street, and parallel to the opposition demonstrations, including a 24-hour "civilian strike" on Thursday, 20 July sponsored by the most important trade unions — the government threatened also to identify strikers.

Wednesday Caracas woke up to a second rolling day with blockades on the roads halting traffic. Residents in the neighborhoods have been setting up barricades with tree branches, debris, rubbish. "We cannot wait for the opposition to provide for our organization, everyone needs to act," said a pensioner speaking to press agency EFE as he moved junk. Also students have been spontaneously blocking streets only to be repressed violently.

Such as spontaneous protest against the Constituent Assembly mushroomed both in middle class neighborhoods, which are traditionally more hostile to the government, and in the popular Western part of the capital where the government claims to have its stronghold.

"Maybe I'll join tomorrow's strike," said a bartender whose business is going south. Many residents complained about having been forced to walk a few more blocks for transportation to go to work, but “rebels” in the neighborhoods are not giving up. "We need to protest every day because there are less than two weeks left for Maduro’s Assembly vote, and we need to stop it," shopkeeper said to EFE.

The nation is being governed on two parallel realities. One is the Congress that holds an opposition majority, whose functions the government “suspended” a couple months ago. Is still functioning though, appointing justices to Supreme Court, among other tasks. To support them, the opposition called for a march on Saturday 22 July.

Then there is the executive branch in the Miraflores palace with its “people”, “homeland”, “attack of imperialism” and “disciplined supporters of the Revolution” rhetoric, almost entirely focused, however, on how to remain in power, and deploy the police, army and paramilitaries to limit the real and the media impact of the strength of the opposition.

"The regime established a ‘new normal’, where the state forces apply systematically institutional violence in a dirty war against the people": these is not some local leader speaking, but Luis Almagro, the chair of the Organization of the American States, who was given the opportunity to speak to Senators in Washington DC. According to Almagro "there is no separation of powers in Venezuela", and personal sanctions against key government officials (accused of drug trafficking or money laundering) will certainly not worsen the situation of Venezuelans. Key top officials, Almagro said, are responsible for every shooting and every victim. According to Senator Marco Rubio, Diosdado Cabello (the third strongest man in the regime) "is Venezuela's Pablo Escobar."

Here lies a potential turn-around to bring down a government that would no longer be in power if it did not cancel elections.

After a government change, what awaits the Maduros, the Padrino Lópezs, the Cabellos is prison and the end of all their wealth and the prerogatives of today's military elite. Cabello's wife was kicked out of a beach by people speaking out against her privileges. His son, as a tourist in Italy, was verbally assaulted on a piazza.

A complaint is pending at the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Mr. Maduro for "segregation, disproportionate attacks, selective murders, illegal arrests and mass deportations" filed by 150 Colombian and Chilean senators in relation to the violent repression of the last 100 days that killed more than 90 people — the last one a 61-year-old nurse shot dead by government paramilitaries while waiting in line to vote last Sunday.

The move that could put an end to the nation’s agony, albeit guaranteeing impunity to the Chavista is establishment, is the visit paid by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to Raúl Castro. If Mr. Santos brokered an escape route to Cuba for fleeing Chavista leaders, the latter might decide that it is not worth taking a personal risk to stay in power only by means of increasingly repressive actions, and against a backdrop of a deepening international isolation.

Cuba is one of the few regimes which, according to Mr. Maduro, unconditionally sides with the Venezuelan government. That was more so, however, a year ago. Castro is aware that if the Maduro government collapses in violence, it is Cuba that will be drawing the shortest straw, because the support of the few other Latin American countries who sided with Venezuela on ideological reasons, and not just for its oil, seems to be fading.


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