Photo: Libertad Digital retrieved.

When I talk about Nicolás Maduro’s obvious personal limitations, I frequently hear answers like “He can’t be that stupid, because he’s been there for five years and you’ve been unable to oust him.”

It’s not that hard to reveal the mystery of how a man with such limitations has managed to remain in power all these years. Maduro has basically inherited a functioning power structure, like a spring toy car that moves when you pull it back.

The basic components of that power structure were put in place in Chávez’s time, it’s just that, back then, the regime didn’t need to make full use of them.

The elements are simple enough: the backing, effective thus far, by the Armed Forces and the State security bodies, willing to do everything they have to; a surveillance mechanism presumably managed by Cuban agents, that spots any dissent that might come in the aforementioned element, to repress or control it in any way necessary; a complementary repressive mechanism, made up of armed paramilitary groups, with broad liberties for violent actions; a full control of the State’s institutions like the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the National Electoral Council, the Comptroller’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ombudsman’s Office,  the entire military justice system (this control, by the way, also lets them “create” institutions without legitimacy, but “legalized” by the TSJ to a list of instances under complete regime control, like the National Constituent Assembly); a clientelist tapestry of pressure that, through various means, binds, ties, corners and threatens the most vulnerable sector of the population, with immediate survival needs; a frame of control and mobilization that ensures the support of part of the country that, though very small, is still available for marches, rallies and polls with their respective red shirts, such as the PSUV, government, UBCh; the existence of increasingly narrow oil rents, and other attractive resources, like the Mining Arc, which are handled at his convenience.

The basic components of that power structure were put in place in Chávez’s time, it’s just that, back then, the regime didn’t need to make full use of them.

Chávez provided a remarkable element of personal leadership and his iron grip imposed a certain coherence; the crisis hadn’t gotten to its current proportions, the international environment was more tolerant, popular dissatisfaction hadn’t reached the levels it has today.

All of that allowed the government to make use of that structure based on what was needed, which was far from 100%. It was there, no doubt about that, but it was applied more selectively, far less than full steam.

Nobody escapes the veil of surveillance, least of all Nicolás himself.

But circumstances changed from 2013 onwards. Chávez is no more, the nation falls to ruin at an accelerated rate, Maduro doesn’t provide any sort of personal leadership, internal struggles boil out to the surface, popular dissatisfaction grows exponentially, and unconformity rears its head in several of the mechanism’s components. The system must work at full speed. That’s within Maduro’s limited capabilities, and much more when he’s got Cuban help, so knowledgeable about such things.

To ensure commitment of the crucial components in the power structure (especially the Armed Forces), there are techniques of proven efficacy. Giving high-ranking cronies lots of power and lots of opportunities for profit and, proportionally, power for the lesser ranks; involving them in actions with potentially criminal consequences; surrounding and infiltrating everything with a system of surveillance and mutual espionage (ah, the Cubans again!), because there are many officers who refuse to be a part of the crooked scheme. This is why there’s allegedly hundreds of officers detained.

Everything I just explained applies, with the necessary changes, to the remaining pieces of the power structure. Nobody escapes the veil of surveillance, least of all Nicolás himself.

It’s been said that “power begets talent.” Judging by his actions as president, Maduro is the exception to that rule. What he might have developed is a certain skill, a sort of automatism in handling the structure and his own capacity to overcome barriers and scruples, no matter the cost in ethical or humanitarian terms, or whatever.

That has its limits. Nothing’s farther from reality than thinking that the structure is in good health. The decision-making clique grows increasingly smaller, and it leaves out important members of what was typically known as “chavismo,” ruminating complaints and disillusionment. The mechanisms of surveillance, persecution and repression draw ever closer to sensitive nerves in key pieces of the structure.

All of this opens more and more perspectives for the construction of a broad national alliance for political change, but that means that those who’ve never been involved with this regime, who’ve always been dissidents or who’ve later earned solid democratic credentials, must have a wider vision, a capability for openness and amplitude that are a challenge by themselves.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Seriously?. So you are just telling us that right now?. Dang, if it were a snake it would bit me now. Or as Lyndon Johnson said:

    “couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if you wrote the instructions on the heel”

    Lord help us all if this is the best you can get out someone with such extensive resume.

  2. How come an armed criminal commands the obedience of someone much more intelligent and educated ?? because where violence and coercion rule its not intelligence that makes a man more powerful but his ruthlesness in the use of the weapons of coercion and fraud …………despite of how obvious this notion is , there are people who still feign to believe that its the fault of the oppo leadership that the armed bully remains in power or that the bully is brilliant because he is able to maintain his rule over his more educated opponents. The above article is a reminder of the above !!

    • I would add the Chavestia “tormented soul paradox”. That is the Chavistas that fully know how bad this thing is going, how bad they got it but they rather see the country go to ashes before give it back to democracy. They continuously support the adefesio fully aware that it furthers their pain and sinks the country deeper in a military dictatorship far worse than Cuba and the USSR. At least Cuba and the USSR had an objective and a method but these thugs are the worse combination ever imagined. There only objective is to stay in power to suck as much money they can before the rule of history eventually applies. And they do it with a considerable lack of shame or even the most basic sympathy for those they are supposed (and sworn) to protect.

      When I criticize the author and the overall content that we get in CC lately, I am on the side of ranting rather than on the side of constructive criticism. The reason for that is the thirst to have someone explain why the MUD died, why Allup betrayed us, why Capriles thrashed Lopez, why US has allowed this infection to fester, why we so easily gave up conquered spaces like the National Aassembly and so on. I have no need to be reminded of what I think is a very well known issue.

      • Rant, that’s free speech and the new CC deserves it. Where are they picking those writers? They don’t show much knowledge or write without supporting documents or material.

      • “…but they rather see the country go to ashes before give it back to democracy.” It’s the worst form of envy — they willing destroy themselves if it makes others suffer. It’s driven by the self-hate endemic in Latin America.

  3. What I would love to see from a political scientist such as Dr. Bautista is an explanation, for example in the voice of a fictional character such as “Enry Hamos Rallup”, making sense of the actions of certain individuals at certain pivotal junctures. Regarding HRA’s role in defeating the protests of 2017, I’m sure HRA would say “tu no entiendes.” Well OK, I’d like to hear “his explanation.” There are several cases like this from the last 20 years.

  4. Why does Chavismo still rule?

    Because Latin America allowed it, still allows it, and won’t accept military intervention from The White Man.

    And they live under this ridiculous dream that negotiations can fix everything, and that war is always evil. Hell:

    They even think that somehow, war is a thing of the past, ignoring all realities.

  5. Its in the nature of a dictatorship that votes and public opinion and political parties and laws and the peaceful protests of the dissenting count for very little when it comes to forcing them to abandon their rule , its like complaining to the victim of an armed gangsters attack that if he had known more triginometry he would have freed himself from the gangsters assault. WE complain that the oppo has failed to topple the regime using institutional methods of democratic and lawful dissent when such methods work only where the armed forces that support the system are united , and in capacity to use their armed power to prevent the dictatorship from continuing their rule ………it boils down to having a military class still capable of enforcing the laws of the land , a capacity that was systematically destroyed by the purges and corrupting and dislocating measures of what was originally a legitimate govt acting in the use of their democratically appointed authority .

  6. And my children will never go fight a useless war to take Maduro out to be replaced by whom? Lessons learned in Irak. Finally, the only way to resolve this is by referendum, and all Venezuelans surrender nationality without conditions, subdue to US jurisdiction, and become the 51st state of the union. And they can win over Puerto Rico come-mierda.

    Our old doc, famous Venezuelan researcher Dr. Jose F. Torrealba (please Google it; there is a picture I vividly remember of him sitting in the backyard on a decrepit sofa), who lived his last days in San Juan de Los Morros, placed all my family from my grandfather down on us, the children, on a strong antibiotics cure that lasted months even if we were not sick of anything.

    He did believe that when Conquistadors came to America they left a trace of certain STD that would persist in the brains of Venezuelan for centuries. Sage Torrealba was right, for Christ sake. That’s the explanation, and now there is no cure. Dr Torrealba took his secrets with him.

  7. Excellent. Please, explain further the next step:
    “All of this opens more and more perspectives for the construction of a broad national alliance for political change, but that means that those who’ve never been involved with this regime, who’ve always been dissidents or who’ve later earned solid democratic credentials, must have a wider vision, a capability for openness and amplitude that are a challenge by themselves”
    How, who, what, when. I know thi sis a lot to ask but Diego urbaneja is one who can prob-vide substantial answers.

  8. To a certain extent, the “pueblo” deserves what it gets. Are they wise or educated? Are they hard-working and honest? Of course not, for the most part.

    Did I forget to mention a majority of them actually work with the regime in countless outfits? Yes, they work for Cabello and Maduro, by the millions. Millions. Yes, they are often corrupt and complicit.

    No one likes to admit that fact. Deal with it.

  9. Venezuela: The Mafia State Next Door

    Ambassador William Brownfield, who headed the bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (“Drugs and Thugs”) under both the Obama and Trump administrations, recently told a Washington audience that Venezuela today is “worse than a narco-state; it is a mafia state that goes beyond just drug trafficking.”

    “It is hub for financial crimes, money laundering, any sort of smuggling and trafficking in which a criminal organization can make money,” he said. “All institutions and programs [of the government] have been completely co-opted by criminal players.” And all this is aided and abetted by China, Russia, and Cuba.

    To emphasize, this is not a case of corrupt government officials being paid off to enable or ignore transnational organized crime within and through its territory. This is a situation where the entire government has converted itself into a transnational criminal enterprise.

    More at the link.

  10. One common practice of the US intelligence apparatus is to use an unnofficial voice with personal links to the apparatus to publicly say things that prepare the climate of public opinion to where it becomes possible to do the things it would like to do . The ambassador is not just giving his personal opinion , he is acting as proxy for others who politically cannot say certain things because of legal reasons. When the regime is described as a vehicle of criminal drug traffickers , its because that can be used to justify an intervention , maybe at a more propitious time…….you seed an idea for it to grow latter into a full plant …it takes time and is subject to the sway of changing circumstances…….but reveals a long term intent which is still very much alive , waiting for the right moment…!!

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