Know Venezuela’s new parallel government lead by a powerful military and alleged kingpin

Why this is a likely scenario, and how a chaotic Trump administration could support president’s Maduro violent and antidemocratic regime.

It is a high price the one President Nicolás Maduro is willing to pay to remain in power until 2018. The constitutional assembly elected on July 30 will dissolve the Parliament (the functions of whichan openly pro-government Supreme Court already cancelled), and remove from office Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz, a faithful chavista turned “traitor” after protesting the unconstitutional procedure.

 Maduro produced a miracle. At 4 PM the very Electoral Committee (loyal to the government) reported that only 1,233,000 votes had been casted (the number included presumably the 800,000 beneficiaries of food stamps and public servants, the two groups threatened to lose benefits and jobs if they did not vote). At 5:30 PM, only 9% of the registered voters had gone to the polls, with a turnout rate of less than 10%,according to MP Delsa Solorzano (the opposition won the Parliament in a landslide election in 2015). Then, in just two hours, 1,500,000 votes grew to become 8.900,000.

The most likely explanation is that the Electoral Committee inflated the vote count, as the Speaker of the Parliament Julio Borges had forecasted. The web is awash in images and testimonies of empty poll stations all over the country, surprisingly so also in the government's strongholds, such as the "23 de enero" neighborhood and many areas in the Zulia and Portuguesa regions.

The rationale behind Maduro's erosion of democracy, with violence and impunity, is not just personal ambition, but also cold calculation on how time had begun to run short when it came to consolidating his inner circle in power and apower struggle within the chavista military establishment.

"We are on the eve of [the government] wiping out the Republic, and imposing a Diosdadato," Nelson Bocaranda and Alberto Ravell, two renowned journalists, wrote a few days ago. They were saying that although Maduro would have preferred the constituent assembly to be headed by people loyal to him, to get the upper hand wasthe military wing led by the "darkest personality within Chavismo, that is Diosdado Cabello". Cabello will now be "omnipotent" to rule the roost with or without Maduro.

As the second most powerful man of the regime, Cabello has been believed to be for several years now in Venezuela and since 2015 in the US, the top official who ultimately approves, or at least turns a powerful blind eye when top level military officials or rank-and-file military and police allow or profit from drug trafficking.

Now Cabello will be in a position to "strip MPs of their immunity, shut down or seize media outlets, restrict further already limited freedoms, destroy private property and whatever else he wishes," besides eliminating every political structure that is not a "misión" controlled by his party.

Several Latin American governments stated that they will not recognize the authority of the new assembly. Besides Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Panama, Colombia is helping out Venezuelan refugees, and Peru extended their residence permit.

Trump's chaotic dynamics could, however, weaken the front. On Venezuela, Trump chose to follow the advice of ultra-conservative Senator Marco Rubio, and to leave Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the background. It was Rubio’s list of Venezuelan politicians that the US Treasury last week decided to sanction. Tillerson's absence from Latin American international affairs, however, is proving to favor Maduro, as the failed vote on human rights violations in Venezuela at the Organization of the American States showed.

Even worse so, Trump could agree to impose oil sanctions on Venezuela. The consequences would be detrimental in the first place for the Venezuelan people already in a hunger crisis. The country has no dollars to import food, and produces almost none due to a disastrous management of the local industries over the last few years.

Secondly, Washington would strongly substantiate Maduro's favorite excuse, "Yankee imperialism", for disguising his economic errors and limitation of liberties, similarly to how the US embargo offered the Cuban government a political case over decades.

The consequences of oil sanctions on the population could undermine the Latin American countries’ effort to put pressure on Venezuela and prevent a violent political showdown.

The death toll among opposition supporters rose to nearly 130 people in the last four months adding last Sunday. The extent to which violence is exacerbating, however, can be gauged by the fatal shooting of three police officers. In one of the most violent countries in the world, even if only a few of the demonstrators protesting the government got hold of guns to "respond" to paramilitary gangs and government forces shooting day after day from bikes on students, women and 13 year olds like the boy who died last weekend, the material conflict in the streets and buildings would spiral out of control to become open and widespread.

The opposition's mobilization is explicitly drawing inspiration from civilian revolutions, like the Orange one in Ukraine, and from movements such as Gandhi’s and Mandela’s. A vast majority of Venezuelans has hence decided already to keep taking it to the streets, both in organized mobilizations, and in the neighborhoods with spontaneous street blockages. This puts potentially manylives at risk.

"Should Maduro’s government collapse, many people will lose their social benefits," a government supporter told me, hitting a critical point and the most powerful and effective trap of Chavismo: to have social policies become antithetical to democratic freedoms.

The behavior of the elites only confirms this déjà-vu from the XX century. While 15 people were being killedin a single day, and others watched horrified and powerless a beating of one woman by a dozen of pro-Maduro men, the president’s children were on vacation in Madrid at the Ritz. They are said to have spent €44,000 in 18 days. Being the average monthly wage of €10, that would be as much as 36 families spend in 10 years.


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