From the Pincer Movement to the Mesh Strategy

For years, the Venezuelan opposition has been betting on breaking the regime under the pressure of two main forces. We need to update the approach according to the web of factors that are already in place

Photo: Centro de Comunicación Nacional

In the minds of those who are driving forward a political change in the country, the pincer thesis has been at the front. It consists of claiming that a change of regime in Venezuela has to be the result of pressure made by a pincer, where both of its arms are represented by the international community and internal pressure.

The thesis, as well as the explanation of what the purpose of each of these arms is, reached a commonplace status. International pressure is made up of a series of personal, economic, diplomatic, and legal sanctions. They are to come from democratic countries all over the world, especially the most developed ones; international organizations, such as the UN Human Rights Commission; international personalities who are relevant in public opinion; countries in the region, especially those most affected by the diaspora. When it comes to the economic sanctions we have two paths: some claim that they harm Venezuelans more than they do the regime, while others assert that if the pincer strategy is to be held, then these sanctions constitute an inevitable price to pay. Especially when, as it so happens in European countries, these personal sanctions, which in truth could be quite effective, are carried out with a rather lukewarm approach. This half-heartedness is to be compensated, supposedly, by economic sanctions applied by the country holding the necessary tools; the United States.

Internal pressure would consist of an organized wave of protests and manifestations coordinated by a united political organization, guided by a clear strategic vision. If duly combined with external pressure, internal pressure with these characteristics could result in maximum force by the pincer, forcing the regime to look for a way to hand over the power.

The pincer model implies an end result without which the thesis won’t work. It consists of knowing how strong the pressure must be for it to cause an internal fracture of the regime’s power structure. It would lead an important group to believe that the best thing the governing group could do is prepare its exit. An internal struggle between the “hard” and the more “sensible” factions would ensue; a fight with an uncertain end. But, you start off with the premise that without said fracture, no matter how much pressure is applied, the desired result of a political change wouldn’t be achieved.

The pincer thesis has led the way in the political struggle these few years. If we look at the facts, there really has been a lot of pressure. Both from the inside and the outside.

Probably not as much, as coordinated, or as mindful of what happens as one would’ve ideally wanted. But, it’s a good idea to warn against falling into the temptation of what Ramón Piñango calls “the media utopia”: assuming that to solve a problem you have the tools and abilities that, if you had had them from the beginning, you wouldn’t have the problem in the first place.

What has failed is the desired effect: there has been no fracture. It has been provoked in several ways. They bet on a fracture in the military, but an inadequate understanding of the material and psychological mechanisms which kept the high-ranking officers close to the regime stopped the appropriate “incentive structure” that would have resulted in said fracture.

It’s not an easy formula to reach, and even less with the regime knowing, as it does, that it’s what we’re after. So, the question still stands: what could cause this famous internal fracture?

It’s time to update the pincer thesis. The image today is just too plain. Time hasn’t passed in vain. It’s no longer about that simple two-pronged pincer that was supposed to be capable of causing a break that never happened. It’s about a new level of pressure now. Because around the country, a spherical mesh has been knit, wrapping us. A close-knit fabric made up of the countless elements that make us Venezuelans go through what we go through. Everyone could write down their own list. Let’s take a look at one: there’s no diesel today, tomorrow criminal gangs take over entire areas of Caracas and they play cat and mouse, the day after, six zeros are to be removed from the national currency, and there are bloody clashes in Apure the next day, then it’s said that the International Criminal Court is going to make a decision, and after that, half the country has a power blackout, Amuay stops working, Bachelet publishes yet another tragic report, working-class neighborhoods denounce that they haven’t had running water for weeks, the vaccines are coming in dribs and drabs, and we find out that Venezuela owes COVAX ten million dollars.

All of this is the result of what this regime has been and done. Obsessed with power, the regime thought that Venezuelans would get trapped in this wire mesh, but it would manage to wriggle away from its tentacles. It was wrong. It’s also trapped by the mesh. It traps them, squeezes them, chokes them. From its point of view, and to its surprise, the regime is entangled the most.

The regime misses the pincer days. Things were so simple. Both arms were easily identifiable. You could tell if they were pressing at the same time and with the same force, or if they were uncoordinated and uneven. They could tell and calculate that they had the necessary strength to withstand the pressure the pincer could make. The mesh is different because it’s everywhere, every day piling up all kinds of elements whose power to reach a breaking point as it accumulates is incalculable and unpredictable.

It’s in the context of that situation and these questions that we have to put the stale topic of negotiation. Feeling the unrelenting pressure by the mesh, the regime has taken a few steps, of those called “in the right direction.” For those of us who think that their target is to stay in power whatever it takes, such steps can result in some screws loosening and some wiggle room being obtained. The problem with this strategy is all the feints and deceits are already well known, and in turn, which would be the real signs of the regime accepting to submit to a popular verdict. The sound of the fake coin is all too familiar.

The questions, in all their naïve appearance, are the same: Will the internal fracture happen? Or in simpler terms, will it be something else? Does someone in there think about the country, Venezuelans or themselves?

Diego Bautista Urbaneja

Lawyer and political scientist. Founder of the School of Political Studies of the UCV, Individual of number of Venezuela's National Academy of History. Visiting Professor at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. Since 2000, he has been conducting the radio program La Linterna at RCR.