For some time now, it has been clear that Venezuela is confronted with a crisis of major proportions that is now placing the country in an ever more precarious situation. Due to unsound financial practices over more than two decades, along with the fall in the price of oil (Venezuela’s main export) the economic crisis has resulted in scarcity of food and basic staples as well as a shortage of energy. This in turn has led to a three day work week for most Venezuelans, a condition not seen in many parts of the world and certainly not in a country long known as a major oil producer.
But the economic crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. The root of the crisis is not economic but the totalitarian nature on which the Bolivarian state was designed under the leadership of Hugo Chavez and followed by his successors.
When Adolf Hitler created the Nazi state, from the onset his idea was to conquer Europe and beyond, exterminate the Jews, and impose German rule. It was clear to Hitler’s generals and others that this set of goals would be impossible to fulfill and eventually would be self-destructive. The fact that Hitler ordered Germany to resist as the allies were at the gates of Berlin shows the nihilistic, irrational, anti-national, and careless nature of the Nazi phenomenon.
The same applies to Stalin’s communist Soviet Union. The paranoid killing of Soviet officers placed the USSR at a disadvantage when the time came to face the Nazis. The destruction of the farms and the famine that followed killed many people and produced scarcity.
By the same token, Chavez’ domestic and international oil largesse aimed at providing social welfare programs at home and expanding influence abroad was not part of a national project aimed at enhancing Venezuela and its citizens. It was part of a revolutionary project, totalitarian in nature and reckless about the well-being of its citizens.
In Venezuela, not only resources were wasted to advance an ambitious political agenda but also the Venezuelan oil giant, PDVSA, the major source of national wealth, was completely de-professionalized. Capable managers and engineers were fired and replaced by inept political operators loyal to Mr. Chavez. Thus, the productivity of this major source of wealth was considerably reduced, contributing also to the economic collapse of the nation.
Like other totalitarian and autocratic regimes, the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro is resisting calls to resign despite the disaster the country is facing. Hunger, long-lines to purchase basic goods, looting, robbery, and violence prevail in Venezuela. The Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar has plummeted to the point of total worthlessness or as the journalist, Andres Oppenheimer, has pointed out, “not even the thieves are interested in stealing Bolivars”. Last year inflation was 180% and this year is predicted to be about 700%.
Anti-government protests have multiplied. An angry population has responded to the impunity of criminals by carrying out 37 acts of lynching to make up for justice that in Venezuela has ceased to exist. According to a report, more than 60 % of the population supports lynching. As reprehensive as this practice of private justice is, it is a clear sign of colossal chaos.
Venezuelans have already collected more than 2 million signatures for a recall referendum aimed at deposing Maduro. Former allies of Mr. Maduro have been abandoning the president like a sinking ship. A retired general and former chief of police has now become a vociferous critique of the regime. The president continues to resist changes and refuses to release political prisoners. The president uses his puppet supreme court to dismiss initiatives from the opposition thus placing an institutional wall in front of the national assembly now dominated by the opposition. This has prompted the opposition to seek a recall referendum, a constitutional device that enables termination of the president’s mandate before his term expires.
Maduro has called for a rebellion to defend his government and has blamed external forces of conspiring against him.
Contrary to the past, the opposition now stands firm. After having won elections in the national assembly, the very capable leadership of the speaker of the Assemble, Henry Ramos Allup, the ouster of the illegitimate Bolivarian regime has been a priority. Despite organized violence, paramilitary activity, imprisonment and killing of opposition figures, the anti-regime forces continue their course. The Organization of American States (OAS), once an enabler of the Bolivarian government, is demanding respect for the organization’s democratic charter and will soon call for a special session to debate the state of democracy in the country. Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, two key, former international allies of Chavez and Maduro can no longer be counted on for support.
Early this April, the Spanish newspaper, ABC reported that Maduro discussed with Cuban President Raul Castro the possibility of resigning. If Maduro’s resignation takes place before the last two years of his mandate, the vice-president takes charge and then calls for elections in 30 days. If Maduro resigns in the last two years of his mandate, his vice-president takes charge and remains in power for the rest of the period. This means that If Maduro’s resignation takes place in one year; new elections will not take place until the end of 2019. This option is the one that Chavistas want and that is probably the reason why they are likely to place obstacles and red tape in order to foil the recall referendum.
This option is the least desirable since those likely to control the reins of power are elements within Chavismo itself. Furthermore, Chavismo seems to be divided in two groups. One is the group of military men who accompanied Chavez in the famous 1992 failed coup that despite its failure launched Chavez to the presidency a few years later. This group, which calls for Maduro’s resignation, is led by Miguel Rodriguez Torres, a retired general and former Minister of Interior. This group is also supported by Diosdado Cabello, a past president of the National Assembly, and a man suspected of having major involvement with drug trafficking.
Another group is a younger group called “Francisco de Miranda Front “(FFM) which has strong ties to the Cuban government and is the main source of support for Mr. Maduro. This group includes people such as Tarek Al Assami, currently the governor of Aragua with strong ties to drug trafficking and to the pro-Iran terrorist group, Hezbollah.
None of these options are good, to say the least as replacing one group of Chavistas with another is not going to bring fundamental change to Venezuela.
A regime that is totalitarian in nature and fascistic needs to be ousted.
The permanence of Chavismo in power is dangerous to Venezuelans and to the region.
As we pointed out at the beginning of this piece, the problem is not just economic and it is not just Maduro. It is the nature of an entire regime built on totalitarian premises. It is also a mafia state whose higher echelons are gangsters involved with drug traffickers, terrorist groups and rogue states.
American leadership and the international community should step in and demand that the recall referendum takes place, while making sure the Venezuelan constitution is fully respected. This work can be carried out diplomatically and in cooperation with the OAS and other countries in the region including Argentina and Brazil. Including Cuba in in a discussion about the Venezuelan transition would be plain geo-political suicide and betrayal of democratic principles and the Venezuelan people as a whole.
If necessary, sanctions need to be applied to every individual and institution associated with the Bolivarian regime. This is not likely to generate a nationalist backlash. On the contrary, the Venezuelan people will be grateful for these international efforts since their despair is making them more and more impatient to see the Bolivarian government gone. There should be no fear of populist and socialist demagoguery anymore. Using U.S and international influence to speed the end of the Venezuelan agony will be an act of human compassion and it is in the interests of the United States and the region as a whole.