Venezuela in the balance

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

If there is a country that more than any other represents a negative example of how domestic bad government and international pressure can conspire jointly to totally destroy what appeared to be a thriving economic and socio-political situation, these can only be Venezuela . For over nine years now, the Latin American country has been living in a situation of chronic crisis whose end is, at the moment, impossible to glimpse.

The origin of the ills of Venezuela is to be found, paradoxically, in its very wealth: oil, of which the Latin American country is one of the major world producers.

Thanks to the rise in hydrocarbon prices, the Venezuelan economy recorded staggering growth rates during the early 2000s. However, the arrival of the financial "Great Crisis" of the 2007-08 and the consequent collapse of both prices and oil production hit the Venezuelan economy and society with the power of a tornado. Due to the deterioration of the public finance situation, already in the 2010 the country was in fact bankrupt and things even got worse when, after the death of Hugo Chávez, his deputy, Nicolás Maduro, succeeded him as president by contributing to turn a financial crisis into a humanitarian drama.

According to data published by the United Nations, from the 2010 to today, around 4 million Venezuelans (equal to 13% of the population) have fled the country, but there is a well-founded possibility of believing that the real figure is much greater, with the Nations United who plan to register the record number of 5 million refugees by the end of the 2019 (equal to 15% of the population).

The internal crisis was then amplified by the international geopolitical situation. Since Chávez (photo) came to power in the 1999, Venezuela has progressively moved away from its traditional field of geopolitical militancy in the "western" world, getting closer and closer to the antagonistic powers of the United States, such as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria and other Third World countries of sulphurous fame. A natural consequence of this initiative was the progressive exclusion of the country from the main sources of financial supply as well as the flight of foreign investors, both private and institutional.

As long as the oil "bonanza" lasted, the Venezuelans could even joke about it, but when things changed, humor gave way to the bitter reality of the facts. The crisis has entered its decisive phase starting from the 10 January of this year when Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, which in the meantime has been completely ousted by Maduro with a presidential decree, has decided to disavow Maduro's power and has appointed himself the country's leader. The months that followed were, perhaps, the most difficult in the recent history of the country. Maduro and Guaidó have measured themselves in a series of "strength tests" with an exquisitely Latin American flavor, while the crisis rapidly assumed the contours of a "regime change" operation characterized by "media war" and direct pressure on leadership actions. political and military in order to create a collapse in the structures of the regime.

For almost two months, the United States of America has maintained an ambivalent conduct, threatening on the one hand the armed intervention and at the same time advocating the need for a "peaceful" transfer of powers. The tones of the American president Trump and the main exponents of the hard wing of his government, embodied by the secretary of state Mike Pompeo and by the now ex-national security adviser John Bolton have been made, if possible, even more threatening when they have news began to circulate that Cuba and Russia would deploy contingents of military advisers, security guards, mercenaries and special forces elements to shore up the regime's structures.

The climatic moment of the Venezuelan crisis was reached on the 30 in April when Guaidó gathered his loyalists to launch what should have turned into the "decisive push" towards the government. During what has been called "Operation Freedom", Caracas was the scene of significant clashes that opposed the armed forces and loyalists of Maduro on the one hand to the partisans of Guaidó and elements of the National Guard in revolt. However, by evening, the square revolt has substantially failed to materialize and the elements loyal to Guaidó have been arrested or have had to disperse.

Since then, despite the continuing dramatic humanitarian crisis, Venezuela has essentially disappeared from media attention, as if the country had sunk into the ground without a trace and the crisis had never existed. Such an initiative finds its justification in the fact that the main centers of power worldwide have fully accepted the fact that the Guaidó-led revolt has basically failed.

The reasons for this debacle are different and have both internal and external character. As for the exogenous causes, it is interesting to note that the front of support for Guaidó has not succeeded, despite the presence on its opposite of a decidedly gifted president, in conducting an international campaign sufficient to discredit Maduro. It is enough to observe a world geographical map to realize that Guaidó (who, it should be remembered, made a constitutional forcing not inferior to that of Maduro) failed to obtain the international recognition he hoped for and indeed, two thirds of the members of the United Nations they preferred not to express themselves, maintain a strict neutrality, give their support to the National Assembly but not to him personally or reiterated their support for Maduro.

This diplomatic defeat was only surpassed by the observation that the main sponsors of the insurrection, the United States of America, Colombia and Brazil have substantially demonstrated their unwillingness to militarily invade Venezuela to impose Guaidó on the point of bayonets. This allowed the most important Venezuelan sponsors to organize a series of high-impact media actions (to be more demonstrative than substantial) that helped reinvigorate the support of the armed forces in the president's government.

In this context, China has offered diplomatic support and humanitarian aid, Iran has sent a small naval squad formed by a frigate and a supply ship and the aforementioned Russia and Cuba have provided intelligence assistance and small groups of specialists to make the anti-aircraft system of the Venezuelan armed forces was fully operational in the short term. However, beyond the external maneuvers, the most important dynamics have been seen on the home front, in particular in the relations between the armed and security forces and the government. One of the essential elements in fact for the United States and their regional allies to take seriously the idea of ​​intervening militarily in the country was that the Venezuelan armed forces would melt on the model of what happened previously in countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen and that this disarticulation, combined with popular pressure, contributed to plunging the country into civil war. Like all those who have had the opportunity to observe, despite the strong pressures coming from all sides, the Venezuelan armed forces have held and remained neatly and disciplinedly compact behind the established power.

It is very probable that this behavior should be explained more through the lens of patriotism and hatred towards external manipulations than through love or deference to Maduro. The figures speak for themselves: since January 2019 until now only 1460 defections have been registered in the ranks of the Venezuelan armed forces, which count hundreds of thousands of men organized in six different branches of service.

There are three reasons that explain why the Venezuelan armed forces did not disband or mutinate. The first and most important is that, in Venezuela as in all other Latin American countries, the armed forces represent the temple of patriotism and the main unifying structure of the country. If we read carefully the history of the Latin American countries of Spanish language and culture, we would know that they were born only after long and very bloody wars fought against the Spanish colonial power and this has obliged the white elites and local Creoles to establish and train working armed forces immediately. Because of this singular game of destiny, the armies of Latin American countries were born, as institutions, before the countries themselves which then found themselves "serving". It therefore follows that, in the Latin American mentality, the temptation to say that it is the armed forces "to possess" their states and not the states "to be served and obeyed" by the armed forces, is very strong. It is very easy to de-legitimize the Latin American "civil" institutions but it is almost impossible to de-legitimize the "military" ones.

The second reason to consider is the large number of officers present within the Venezuelan armed forces. Numerous reporters have in the past months pointed the finger at the fact that the Venezuelan armed forces count among their ranks between the 3.000 and the general 5.000 (in addition to a large number of junior officers and junior officers) while the United States armed forces America counts 920. This "elephantiasis" was presented as an effect of institutional corruption and degradation of the level of professionalism. It is undoubtedly true that the Venezuelan official body is very numerous and there is circumstantial evidence that a part of the "men with stars" are involved in illegal activities both at national and international level, however it must be understood that, since Venezuela adopted the military doctrine of the "Total People's War", on the model of Cuba or ex-Yugoslavia, the presence of a large official body has become necessary because those same men should constitute the natural "backbone" of the divisions of reservists that in millions would be recalled should Venezuela be involved in a major international war. In times of "peace" instead, the presence of such a large number of officers in relation to the number of troops makes it easier to control and impose discipline between the ranks, guaranteeing their compactness, as we have seen throughout the 2019.

The last reason, on the other hand, has a "demographic" character and goes beyond the borders of the armed forces to embrace the Venezuelan population as a whole. According to the 2011 census data, the population of Venezuela was formed by 51,6% from mestizos (also called “pardi” or “moreni”), for 43,6% from whites of ancient or recent emigration, for 3,7% from blacks , for 2,7% from Amerindian and for 1% from Asians. These are very important data because they show how the whites, traditionally the richest and most privileged segment of the population, have by now been completely overwhelmed numerically by the combination of mestizos, blacks and Amerindians who are still the main engine of "Chavismo". . It would not be possible to explain the success of this ideology formed by a confused mix of nationalism, paternalism and brisk socialism without understanding the impact it had on the poorest and marginalized strata of the Venezuelan population, especially the mestizos. These are people who for centuries have been cut off from any right, even the most elementary, and who have found in the armed forces and, to a lesser extent, in the Catholic Church the only two institutions willing to represent them. The "Chavismo" has for the first time given to these masses of disinherited a form of ideological and representative affirmation and cemented this unity of intent between the armed forces and large sections of the population.

But perhaps, the element that more than any other has determined, so far, the failure of the insurrection was precisely the behavior of the Venezuelan people. Folded by the crisis and squeezed between two fires, Venezuelan civil society has proved to be substantially apathetic to the repeated calls for revolt by professional agitators who have little to do with the sufferings of ordinary people.

While the white and "post-colonial" elites have mobilized to support "freedom", the absolute majority of the mestizo population (the aforementioned "pardo") that "Chavismo" has for the first time in their history elevated by their traditional subaltern position have proved to be absolutely unresponsive to follow the verb of the one who they basically consider little more than a "Yankee coup".

The author of this analysis is used to using demography as a tool to understand the structures and transformations that affect a given country, in the short as well as in the long term. Well, in the case of Venezuela, beyond the positions of an ideological nature, generally aligned on the simplistic opposition "communism against capitalism", "left against right", "dictatorship against democracy", "evil against good" personally I do not it has still happened to read a shred of demographic analysis (except those that I had to produce myself) that explained how the basis of the success of "Chavismo" was precisely the Gordian knot of the "emancipation" of the mestizos and of the other "outcast" that this ideology (be it right or wrong) has led. And this finally brings us to the fateful question: what do we want to achieve in Venezuela and what is our strategy to get it?

If our goal was simply to "eliminate Maduro" (physically or politically) the answer would be: let's give time to time. With all the good will that one can have, Maduro is objectively a subject who has shown a unique ability to economically destroy his own country. There is no "geopolitical entity" in the world that, after the end of the "Cold War", suffered such vertical economic collapse as Venezuela and it is absolutely not honest to blame all the blame for the economic sanctions that the United States has approved against the country. Half of the economic misfortunes that have plagued Venezuela have Maduro as primary manager. However this state of affairs does not represent a reason sufficiently valid to invade a country also because, paradoxically, it could lead the people to gather around the leader, legitimizing their position!

It would be much better to take time instead and establish a serious negotiation under the counter with the military leaders of the country, in particular with General Vladimir Padrino López and with Admiral Remigio Ceballos (photo) so that they will depose Maduro once the economic situation has degenerated to such an extent that it no longer allows him to distribute his rich prebends to the military. This would be a limited goal and within our reach; unfortunately that is not what the internal and foreign enemies of Venezuela would like. In fact, the declared goal of the core supporter of Guaidó as well as of most of its international sponsors is to get rid not only of Maduro but of "Chavismo" in general.

In light of the discourse made on the demography of the country I would tend to believe that this scenario is absolutely out of our capacity and that of anyone else, unless Venezuela is invaded by an imposing military force that destroys all the structures of power and destroys the foundations ideologies on which the country-system is founded, just as it happened with the Third Reich in the 1945 or with the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge in the 1979, and even in this case we should take into account that we should see it with a maddening guerrilla war that would last for years. Believe, as they had the audacity to affirm some elements of the Brazilian right next to President Bolsonaro that "the Venezuelans will welcome us with flowers" is a stupidity that borders on the most vulgar arrogance.

In conclusion, what is happening in Venezuela represents one of the most difficult and sad moments in the history of the country and constitutes a hotbed of tensions of not easy resolution. For the moment the country remains in the balance and only time will tell who will emerge winner from the tug-of-war that is taking place for the future dominion of the "land of the Caribs".

Photo: web / US Department of State / Alexcocopro