Washington, D.C.- The Venezuelan Unrest has come at a place in the Venezuelan history when the people in the country are experiencing some real issues with security, food supplies, energy supplies, and several other economic problems. The convergence of the two separate conditions made this unrest a unique situation, unlike the conditions that were present during the failed Coup d’état attempt of 2002.
This time around there is a serious discontent from the students in universities and the opposition is much more coordinated. The young generation that had for a long time been part of the “left” in Venezuela today is revolting.
It is possible to argue that the lack of interest by the White House could be because today the US is dealing with several Foreign Policy challenges:
1) The emergence of Narco-Terrorism in Mexico.
2) The problems in Africa.
3) The challenges in Iraq.
4) The turmoil in the Syrian Civil War.
5) The Russian intentions to take over more of Ukraine.
6) The tensions in Afghanistan with the Taliban that is getting stronger.
7) The problems in the Venezuelan unrest.
It is also possible to make an argument that the last one is a low priority.
The “Venezuelan Spring” just like the ones in Egypt and other parts of the world has been received in a very similar way with a use of tremendous government offensive (mostly an escalation of force in several stages).
The stages, while not scientific, came as follows:
1) Nicholas Maduro the current president of Venezuela began by calling the protesters fascists and right wing insurgents working with the US to overthrow his government.
2) Since nobody objected to calling protesters insurgents, he then began to implement a counterinsurgency operation in the entire country against the protesters.
3) Lately, Maduro has been calling protesters terrorists and began to bring in a counterterrorism offensive against the opposition and the protesters.
It appears nobody cares that an anti-protest police force is using chemicals that are clearly hurting people, a deployment of a counterinsurgency offensive, and the latest, a counterterrorism offensive against protesters.
And the international community remains unmoved…
The Venezuelan government makes several arguments. They state that the protesters are terrorists and not just protesters. By using the label of terrorism, he allows his police forces, intelligence apparatus (with all the foreign support from several pro-Maduro nations including Cuba and Russia), and military forces, to use all means necessary to take things under control.
The most recent attacks against civilians, including arrests, and now disappearances of some of the key leaders, of both the students and the political opposition, show that the Venezuelan government intends to continue to escalate its level of aggression against civilians.
The latest house searches and arrests that follow charges of weapons and terrorism are consistent with the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy, a strategy that has had little objection/resistance by the international community, including the US.
Maduro’s administration has also been putting a lot of information (mostly false), deceptive information, and censoring much of the radio and television in the country. As the result, the Venezuelan government has been creating tornados of misinformation and propaganda campaigns.
Previous US administrations were dreaming of the conditions in Venezuela for a change from the current totalitarian government. However, when the conditions presented, it appears that the Venezuelans have been disappointed by the US. The Venezuelans living in the US from 19 states traveled to Capitol Hill to ask for assistance this past week. Based on the recent social media postings, it appears that the people protesting have been given hope that the US “may” finally pay attention to Venezuela.
As to a possible coup, so far Mauro has been effective in arresting suspected military personnel trying to help the opposition. If enough Chavistas move sides for their own benefit, Maduro may be gone within a few months, but it will not happen without some assistance from the US, not limited to economic sanctions for the extreme uses of force against civilians.
As to the counterterrorism efforts against the civilians, on April 22, 2014, the Venezuelan government arrested 9 people with charges of financing and organizing anti-government protests, according to official statements by the head of the department of interior Miguel Rodriguez.
Many of the people arrested such as Henrique Capriles (opposition leader) are confined into military prisons and not civilian prisons. Even when the student protesters and the opposition have disagreements in negotiations they both want to see Maduro gone.
In the meantime, the Maduro continues to stop any anti-government media in Venezuela. On May 7, 2014, Ivan Ballesteros, a very well-known radio figure in Caracas, who runs a program known as “Plomo Parejo,” in Radio Caracas was sanctioned from his program because his program was bringing too much heat to Maduro’s administration. This influencer was receiving calls from Chavistas who were voicing their anti-Maduro’s complaints, a clear threat to Maduro’s administration.
In order to illustrate the power of social media, Ballesteros has 349,000 followers and 42,000 Tweets. It is clear he became a target of Maduro’s administration not only for his radio program but also for his footprint in social media. Many like Ballesteros are getting arrested on a daily basis for no reasons other than having too much influence or too many followers in social media.
The unrest is still young in Venezuela. So far Maduro’s government has sustained only a few blows to its powerbase. The death of the ex-intelligence Chief Eliecer Otaiza recently reveals that Maduro’s inner circle is vulnerable. Otaiza was elected in December as the head of the PSUV party in Libertadores (it is Maduro’s party). There are conflicting stories from the police and from Maduro’s administration regarding this death.
Maduro’s counterterrorism program continues. The arrest of 58 people charged with terrorism in Venezuela on May 2, 2014 is yet another way to use military and intelligence forces to attack the opposition and the students. The interior minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres stated that the alleged terrorists are part of a plan by the US to overthrow Maduro’s government.
On May 8, 2014, four camps were completely cleared by Venezuelan security forces in early hours and resulted in 234 arrests. Guns and several explosive artifacts were displayed by the government indicating that the groups were planning more terrorist attacks. Maduro said that he was protecting the community of Chacao from “right-wing assassins.” Many of the students who were there and that were not arrested claimed that many of the weapons displayed had been planted by the police.
On a positive note, the legal process of Leopoldo Lopez case, the opposition leader jailed is running into trouble since the government is not able to show evidence that Lopez committed any crimes as charged.
In an article by the Washington Post the Editorial Board writes, writes “More pressure must be applied to the Maduro government if it is to agree to reform could break Venezuela’s free fall. Imposing a clear price on those officials who direct repression would be useful leverage.” A great article that shows the lack of interest by the US in what is going on in Venezuela.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) continues to push for sanctions but they may come too late if the Venezuelan government continues to make the mass arrests and continues to increase the level of force against his own people. There have been heated exchanges on TV and Newspapers between Rubio and Maduro. Senator Rubio may actually see Maduro as a proxy for Castro. Senator Rubio is of Cuban roots.
Some Venezuelans in social media while at DC were saying, “Venezuela has oil…” trying to entice the US government to look at them just like they have looked at nations like Iraq.
Lastly, the protesters are getting stressed out because of the constant military and police raids in the middle of the night and the use of extreme force, only seen in Russia and in Syria in recent years, consistent with a Russian practice. The recent march to Capitol Hill this past week in the US by Venezuelans living in the US is giving them hope that the US government look at Venezuela.
The only question left to ask: What is going to take in order to have the White House look at Venezuela?
Nothing above has been able to compel the White House to act... at least, Senator Marco Rubio and a group of legislators are showing real interest.