A Grim Reminder that We Are Far from Done

After three weeks that felt like a year, the Venezuelan transition process feels a bit stagnated. An article in Bloomberg reminds us that the usurpation is far from over, and that many things could still go wrong. But there are also reasons to not freak out (that much) about it.

Photo: Bloomberg retrieved

Bloomberg’s Andrew Rosati and Ethan Bronner bring on the depressing read of the week. In their latest text, they dig into an uncomfortable feeling that although not widely perceived, has already started to mess with many Venezuelans’ nerves:The vertiginous transition process started by Juan Guaidó on January 10th, now feels stagnated.

After January 23rd, when Guaidó took an oath as the Caretaker President of Venezuela in defiance of Maduro’s usurpation, dozens of countries quickly recognised the National Assembly—and therefore him—as the sole legitimate authorities of the Venezuelan state. Several calls for the military to back the new president have been made since then, with the United States pressuring, while offering amnesty for those in olive who decide to turn their backs on Maduro. So far, this vital step toward transition, hasn’t happened.

“In a country with more than 2,000 generals and admirals, only one top officer—who commands no troops—has pledged allegiance to Guaidó. So have two colonels (a physician and a military attache in Washington). Guaidó has said that he has privately been in touch with other officers and that more will follow. He doubtless is, and perhaps they will.”

The vertiginous transition process started by Juan Guaidó on January 10th, now feels stagnated.

The article quotes Gabriel Silva, former Colombian Ambassador to the United States and a critic of Iván Duque’s administration, according to whom “the reality is that that process has stagnated and is not moving forward. Every day that goes by is a day that Maduro gets stronger and stronger.”

I’m far from thinking that Maduro’s reign is done. But as a Venezuelan who has lived most of the country’s latest protest cycles first-hand, it’s hard for me to see how an economically and politically isolated government, recently plagued by formerly uncommon PR disasters, is getting stronger by the day.

At this point, I consider that waiting for the Armed Forces’ High Command, or even influential generals, to record themselves in videos vowing to defend democracy and reject the dictatorship isn’t the best thing to do. Yes, as long as Maduro controls the Armed Forces he will effectively hold power, but the fact that dozens of generals haven’t publicly supported Guaidó doesn’t necessarily mean they all are under Maduro’s control. Especially when, as the article claims “The Venezuelan Armed Forces are one of the most spied on institutions in the world.”

Actually, the fact that recent massive protests haven’t been met with the massive repression seen in 2014 and 2017, as well as Maduro’s growing dependence in FAES (a branch of the police) and—according to the commander of the U.S. South Command — to foreign military forces, suggests his confidence in the Venezuelan military, at least its rank and file, isn’t the same that it used to be a few years back.

As Rosati and Bronner point out, alternative markets and even drug money will surely make it easier for those better connected with the ruling clique to surf the impact of the most recent U.S. economic sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry.

Alternative markets and even drug money will surely make it easier for those better connected with the ruling clique to surf the impact of the most recent U.S. economic sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry.

“The conviction that an oil embargo will force the leadership’s hand is challenged by other sources of income. Russia and China remain allies and oil clients. Venezuela says it will double its crude exports to India. And hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal drug money make their way into the bank accounts of the country’s leaders, according to the U.S.”

But can this money protect the government against the likely collapse of the state’s institutions when the most dramatic effects of the sanctions hit the country? Can the government survive a new massive wave of unrest, propelled by a nation-wide fuel crisis (that would effectively halt most of Venezuela’s already decimated economy and public services), without soldiers fully compromised to the bolivarian cause?

Maybe it can, but it’ll undoubtedly be a complicated situation.

Perhaps the most worrisome bit in the article, is that it reveals flaws in the logistics behind the planned delivery of the humanitarian aid stored in Cúcuta, expected to be brought into Venezuela on February 23rd.

“The U.S. said it was paying for the aid but wanted Colombia to find trucks and drivers to move it in. The Colombians said no one would accept the mission because the Venezuelan military would arrest them. The aid remains in warehouses near the border.”

At this point everyone seems to accept the fact that the humanitarian aid entry is a policy primarily designed to furtherly stress the Armed Forces. The reluctance of Colombian truckers is perfectly understandable, and suggests the aid will somehow be pushed across the border, leaving the ball on the Venezuelan military’s court, to see how far they will go to stop its entry. A standoff that could easily get out of control, but that seems unavoidable at this point.

Bloomberg’s piece is a somewhat overly depressing yet needed reminder that there’s still a lot to do before we can cross out “end of usurpation” from our democratic to-do list. But so far, I share Senator Marco Rubio’s and Nina Rancel’s view. In just three weeks, we’ve taken huge steps in the right direction.

There’s a long road ahead, but also plenty of reasons to remain responsibly optimistic about it.

Juan Carlos Gabaldón

Medical doctor from Merida, currently studying Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine