The Mexican Standoff


Our man Raul Stolk got a little thing published over at The Daily Beast. He goes in depth on one of the most puzzling aspects of the current desmadre: the seemingly inability of the Maduro administration to do anything. He answers the question with his trademark mix of gravitas and pizazz.

Here’s the bit I really liked:

Again, you want to ask: Why? Why doesn’t the Government make the basic changes that the country’s economy is desperate for right now? Why doesn’t it look for a solution instead of wasting precious time making up enemies and raping windmills?

Well, the answer to the question is: because they can’t. And the reason is part incompetence, part thuggery, and a big part, the dead man himself, Chávez.

Replacing a strong man is never easy. Whatever Hugo Chávez left after he died, it’s as if he intended for no one else to be able to run it. Imagine a feudal state, composed of several shogunates with their corrupt interests intertwined. Or look at it this way. It’s like a Mexican standoff, no one can move without exposing their vulnerabilities and being taken down by other chavista leaders.

And at the center of this disaster we have the military caste. After Chávez took power in 1998, many officers close to him left the ranks to take positions within the Government. He encouraged the Armed Forces to become politically active and militant in his defense, and with this he opened the doors to imposing military hierarchy over different parts of the civilian government.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. Can I just say wow. Excellent writing, explaining not just the situation but the government’s position in all this. Particularly liked the following:

    “Every single scenario for a peaceful resolution to the crisis transits through chavismo giving up power. And giving up power means exposing themselves. It means accountability.”
    Pay up pendejos.

  2. I looked for mention of the huuuge indebtedness to the Chinese, on the basis of repayments in bbls of oil, and the related opportunity costs to the Vz regime. But none found.

    • That’s one of the more fascinating aspects to this story, the Chinese. A few years back when Chavista budgets came to their usual annual shortfalls, someone in a Chavista finance meeting would get a crazed, Belushi-like look on his face and shout, “road trip!” They would then all pile into the A-319/Cubana and make their annual pilgrimage to Beijing and hope to acquire new loans for future oil deliveries. Not anymore! Them days is over.

  3. That is an excellent and wholly depressing read of the situation. Chavez’s greatest legacy seems to have been to turn Venezuelan politics into a kind of doomsday device, triggered in the event of his absence.

  4. great article… I like the expression “misery porn”. Venezuela is partly that kind of movie for foreigners like me (where can you reed tweets like “Venezuelan mother arrested for burning her kids’ hands because they used flour she waited 10 hours to buy to make roads for their toy trucks”?) The difference is that I don’t masturbate while watching the squalor and I never get tired of wishing the end of all this pain and madness as soon as possible.

  5. There is no military caste, there hasn’t been one for years now ……there are different shifting groups of military alliances, I would conjecture that there are some which are wed to Maduro come what may , some which really think his removal is necessary and would prefer either to (1) sponsor his replacement with a totally new regime led by the oppo or (2) for Maduro to be replaced by an Aristobulo who ´makes his peace’ with the oppo by allowing for certain measures which the oppo is bound to consider essential like, for example: the release of political prisioners , the restructuring of the TSJ so that once again it becomes an autonomous organ (thus ceasing the hounding of the AN) , gubernatorial and mayoral elections this year and the restoration of an autonomous BCV to address the countrys frightful financial conundrums . Not sure all of the oppo would subscribe to the latter alternative but at least some practical minded part of it would . Needed is some independent party or person to put the whole thing together . At least the above scenario is one which would make sense to me . The strain on the system is becoming too great and can easily explode into an uncontrollable situation in the near future , something which everyone (include most military) fear…!!

    The Chinese are playing hard ball , they appear to have allowed some flexibilization of the payment terms but maintain an indirect but very tight hold on what use can be made of the money generated by such flexibilization , my guess , it wont be used to help with the import of basic foodstuffs if there are any Chinese corporate or banking creditors to be paid this year .

    If the above totally speculative scenario were to have a chance of developing the essential piece would be the abilities and prestige of the mediating entity , any guess as to who it might be ??

  6. “And yet, the Maduro administration remains paralyzed. If Chávez was guilty for the decisions that steered Venezuela onto this collision course, then Maduro’s sin is inaction, watching as the country crashes into the iceberg without lifting a finger, except forcefully preventing anyone else taking the helm.”

    When a ship strikes an iceberg, there’s time to board the lifeboats.

    This feels more like Andreas Lubitz at the controls of an A320 …

  7. This is a very good article by Stolk. And yes, we do have the military caste…they might currently be divided but that has very often been the case…it was until Gómez consolidated his power and it was so after he died and until Pérez Jiménez took control of things. It was so when Bolívar was around and it was so during the whole XIX century.
    They and the boligarchs have so much to lose…

    • The independence war ( and those that followed) gave a lot of different groups of civilians the incentive to engage in bouts of armed violence and adopt phony military ranks in order to achieve political power , they were actually bandits with a flag . They didn’t train as military , never lived in established garrisons , never wore uniforms , often used only the most rudimentary of weapons , followed only those orders their favoured caudillos gave them, had no established sense of discipline or organizational order and spent all of their time fighting each other to gain political power . Armies formed for a season , fought and then dissapeared into a thousand different occupations . To call this an army caste is like calling a gathering of sorcerers a medical association.

      During a long time Venezuela suffered the tragedy of dozens of continual uprisings by amateur ‘armies’ under the command of amateur generals acting in chaotical fashion which destroyed the country until General Gomez ended this madness by creating a professional career army , which finished off all these caudillos and montoneras .

      Initially the career army was made up of a mix of ‘chopo de piedra’ officers from the long civil war days and new academy trained professional career army officers , most of them from the same small coffee growing families of the Andes, (not landowning aristocrats) which culturally were already accostummed to a life of strict discipline , obedience to patriarchal figures and order. In time these officers did form a kind of caste , a sprit de corp that bound them together into a tight group . There were tensions between the old chopo de piedra officers ( some who barely knew how to read) and those formed in the military life of the academies and modern garrisons which ended up with the younger officers staging a coup to topple those representing the old chopo de piedra officers from the old times .. Because they didn’t see themselves as capable of running a country ( which only professional pols could do) they allied themselves with AD (an upcoming political party ) and launched the October Revolution of 1945 against General Medina .

      Tensions then developed between this military caste ( never numbering more than about 200 people) and the AD leadership which ended up in the toppling of Gallegos and the formation of a Junta which members ruled until 1958 , when a group of officers felt that an institutional form of government not relying on the threat of force was the best for the country long term .

      When AD returned to power it did everything it could to create an officer class that wasn’t too chummy or united , officers from different forces were kept separate , better living conditions were allowed to make them more beaurocrat like and promotions were increasingly dependent on the favour of those in the higher rungs of political government , the regional recruitment of officers ended and ultimately the army adopted a more diversified composition which precluded the development of true caste mentality . Partisan alligeance became a factor in who got promoted first ….but many officers felt that they owed themselves to the institution and not to any partisan alligeance.

      Chavez coming from this new army tried initially to create an army that was totally loyal to him and not to any institutional ideal……he didn’t succeed , so he went for the next best thing and destroyed the army’s unity and coherence , creating groups of favourites which he changed and removed every so often , and purging those he ultimately could not trust whatever their professional merits. The army of today is in no believable sense of the term a caste !!

      • Great insightful commentary Bill. For the most part, one might consider them a “caste” of drug dealing corrupt criminals that have been granted legitimacy by the even more corrupt government officials.

      • ..they were actually bandits with a flag . They didn’t train as military , never lived in established garrisons , never wore uniforms , often used only the most rudimentary of weapons , followed only those orders their favoured caudillos gave them, had no established sense of discipline or organizational order and spent all of their time fighting each other to gain political power

        Motorizados, 21st century.

      • Sorry, for me the military have always, always been bandits, even in our “golden” Saudi times in the seventies. They might have trained and worn nice uniforms, they were still the eternal military caste.
        Not for nothing did they keep the pseudo-religion of the Bolivar cult and “los militares nos dieron la libertad”. Libertad my foot.

        Even then they would steal. Even then they would have private beaches, as no one had. Even then they – yes the most educated of them -. And yes, my family had contact with a lot of them, of every rank. And we always saw them for what they were: bandits. In 1977 their officers would go train in the USA and not be as fat as they are now. They would still keep haciendas and have properties in national parks and so much more.
        They were cancer kept at bay with a lot of petrodollars.
        Now the cancer is full blown.

        • Kepler or Bill

          When was the last time the army did any fighting of significance? Was there ever a sustained guerrilla insurgency of Castro inspired communists? Or did they occasionally battle the FARC/EPA/whomever that lurk today (and I assume pre Chavez) in the frontier region?

          • In the sixties and early seventies there was a full fledged communist attempt at toppling the govt and establishing a regime akin to that of Castro , there were rural guerrillas, urban guerrillas , military uprisings , assesinations and kidnappings galore , street bombs etc but the army held them back and ultimately brought them to surrender and seek peace by converting into parties.acting within the framework of a democracy…..!!

          • Bill, thanks for your very excellent summary of Venezuela’s military history, and Kepler’s bandit comments also, but I think Caldera’s pacification efforts toward the Lefties had a lot to do with ” …them to surrender and seek peace by converting into parties,.acting within a framework of democracy….”

          • The military was still in the eighties doing some “fighting”.
            One case is the Masacre del Amparo, where a bunch of officers murdered 14 Venezuelan fishermen they mistook for Colombian guerrilas.
            Boligarch Rodríguez Chacín was part of the team organising the attac but he could not take part in the actual action because he had been wounded in an accident a few days earlier.

            There was the Masacre de Cantaura in 1982 where other military bommbed a guerrilla camp and killed about 29 guerrilleros. Curiously, one of the military who killed these people is a PSUV deputy for Guárico, Róger Cordero Lara (I wrote Wikipedia articles about him in German, English and Spanish).

            In Germany there were Nazis who continued in the system after WW2, like some judges and a few politicians, but they tried to keep usually low profile. Here we are talking about guys who were representative of some of the worst things of the pre-Chavez era and who became the ones to tell the opposition

            One of the reasons Chavismo never allowed for an independent investigation of the Caracazo was that a lot of the actual military performing the killings became the “revolutionary” denouncing the killing. Chavismo takes chutzpah to a completely different level.

  8. I like the analogy of the standoff, however something doesn’t add up.
    One missing piece of this puzzle is how the MUD got away winning the Dec 6th election?
    One likely explanation is that while the Chavista CNE can cheat about 800000 votes that was not enough this time given the discontent of the people.
    The armed forces have been ambiguous at times, with public pronouncements “supporting the constitution” but also openly supporting the “revolution”. Allegedly they allowed the 6D to go through, so who knows.

    There are many unknowns here.
    How big is Cuba and China influence, even Russia?
    Has Venezuela become the hot spot for a proxy International conflict?

    • Venezuela has been the hot spot for a proxy war for a while now. Our war has been fought in the propaganda and diplomatic fronts, financing a large portfolio of ideological projects world wide and promoting left wing / anti capitalist (read american) interests and agendas.

      The cubans have done what they know best, pimp and embezzle our treasury while others such as Rusia sell arms and China buy resources.

      Other important players on the board, organized crime and the drug cartels have also moves into the void left by a retreating state.

      All this while the treasury has also cleverly been used to neutralize and corrupt every institution and many individuals in the nation. (p.e. political parties, labour and professional associations, , academia, TSJ, CNE, Media, Military, Regional groups like Mercosur, OEA, Unasur, Petrocaribe, etc) into submission. everyone.

      One unexpected black swan event will topple the unstable equilibrium and hell will break loose.

      Poor ex-venezuela.

  9. If you tend to perceive every debate from the perspective of “information war”, “campaign” and your attention is too focused on (dirty) communication strategy (see caracas chronicles political risk report), the probality of loosing the grip on reality might be really, really high. And thats what at the end of the day distinguishes a good Government from a bad one. Or a bad one from a terrible. Or a terrible one from an abysmal.

  10. Raul’s article is certainly excellent, and among the very best, if not the best, I have read on Venezuela’s current situation. Mil kudos!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here