POR: Eduardo del Buey

Blog

Last week, I discussed the role of Russia in Venezuela’s political affairs and a number of readers asked me where I see Venezuela going given my gloomy description of the current situation.

Unfortunately, I do not see a return to full democracy in Venezuela any time soon.

Let’s review some history.

In 1958, the Venezuelan military under Admiral Wolfgang Larazabal overthrew dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez and established a military junta to oversee the transition to democracy.

At the same time, the leaders of the main political parties, Romulo Betancourt (Accion Democratica), Rafael Caldera (COPEI) and Jovito Villalba (URD) signed the Punto Fijo Pact by which each leader undertook to respect the outcome of democratic elections. 

This paved the way for the democratic election later that year with Romulo Betancourt becoming Venezuela’s democratically elected president.

This paved the way for the democratic election later that year with Romulo Betancourt becoming Venezuela’s democratically elected president.

This movement was successful for a number of reasons.

Perez Jimenez had no real political organization capable of mobilizing the masses, and the military who mounted the coup were fed up with his dictatorial ways.

The civilian political leaders had built up a strong base of support among the Venezuelan public and were able to mobilize their forces and work together with the military junta to establish a democracy of sorts. 

This lasted until Hugo Chavez won the presidency in 1999.

Democracy was not without its major failings during the period 1958-99.

Corruption reigned but it was tolerated throughout the oil boom of the 1970’s as most sectors of society benefitted from an improved standard of living.

This ended on February 18, 1983, when the bolivar wa devalued and much of the middle class lost its savings and purchasing power. 

By the early 1990’s violent street demonstrations took place against Accion Democratica President Carlos Andres Perez, with then-Lt. Colonel Hugo Chavez mounting a failed coup attempt in 1992.

Jailed for two years, Chavez was pardoned in 1994 by President Rafael Caldera who believed that he could control Chavez and curry favor with Chavez’s supporters.

This allowed Chavez to remain politically active and, in 1999, be elected President.

This lasted until Hugo Chavez won the presidency in 1999.

Almost immediately, Chavez created a new constitution and began to dismantle democratic institutions and create a political infrastructure based on the Cuban model.

The so-called militia of “Bolivarian Circles” were armed and ready to defend their leader.

In 2002, military officers mounted a coup against Chavez after bitter street demonstrations in which Chavez called for the military to stop the protests using as much violence as necessary.

The rebellious officers refused and, backed by major media groups and by the private sector, they arrested Chavez and put business leader Pedro Carmona in as acting president.

Carmona made several mistakes that proved fatal to his 48-hour presidency.

He revoked the constitution, tried to purge the military, and appointed right-wing ministers.

He tried to do too much with the wrong people. 

Meanwhile, Bolivarian Brigades, from the poorer barrios of Caracas and well-armed by the Chavez regime, took to the streets and faced a divided military and a civilian government with no popular mandate.

Chavez was released and returned to office.

After Chavez’s death in 2013, he was succeeded by his hand-picked vice president Nicolas Maduro.

After Chavez’s death in 2013, he was succeeded by his hand-picked vice president Nicolas Maduro.

After the coup attempt of 12002, Chavez placed military officers in key positions where they could not only manage huge state enterprises but where they could plunder the treasury at will.

The regime also placed Russian and Cuban intelligence officers in the military and the security services to ensure their loyalty, again much along the lines of the Cuban model. 

Today’s Venezuela is thus fully controlled by Maduro, his wife Cilia Flores, and his followers, and it appears unlikely that the senior military command will rebel against the hand that feeds it.

The civilian opposition is deeply divided and has been incapable of mounting a credible electoral platform.

They won the Congressional elections in 2019 when Juan Guaído, President of the Congress, was appointed interim President once the Congress deemed Maduro’s reelection to the presidency as illegitimate.  

While recognized by a number of hemispheric and European governments, Guaído and the Congress have been ineffective in removing Maduro from power and restoring liberal democracy to Venezuela. 

Over the years, Maduro has jailed many opposition leaders on trumped up charges thus depleting their ranks.

Over five million Venezuelans have fled the country thus depriving the opposition of a strong middle class upon whom the opposition could depend.

What do Venezuelans have to do to return to liberal democracy?

First, opposition leaders have to put aside personal ambitions and rally around a strong and charismatic leader capable of swaying the majority of Venezuelans who may be losing some of their zeal for Chavismo with Chavez gone and the country in financial collapse.

First, opposition leaders have to put aside personal ambitions and rally around a strong and charismatic leader capable of swaying the majority of Venezuelans who may be losing some of their zeal for Chavismo with Chavez gone and the country in financial collapse.

The opposition has to create a broad electoral platform that appeals to a majority of Venezuelans who are discouraged by the lack of economic opportunities in the country and who are suffering as a result of a worthless currency and a massive shortage of consumer goods and medicines. 

The opposition would have to look ahead and forgive the military their ill-gotten gains and not prosecute military officers currently in power. That way the opposition could attract military officers who oppose the regime and coopt some of those who are vested in it as nothing can really be expected to happen without the military playing a key role as it did in the overthrow of Perez Jimenez. 

It won’t be easy or quick.

One recalls that Franco stayed in power in Spain for forty years, and the Cuban regime has been in power since 1959.

Absent a new spirit of Punto Fijo among opposition political leaders and a cunning strategy to divide the military, coopt Chavista support from the barrios, and neutralize security forces, Venezuela will remain in its current quagmire with little respite from the rampant corruption and political repression that currently exists.  

Eduardo del Buey

Eduardo is a former deputy spokesperson for Ban Ki-Moon.

He is an expert in public diplomacy.


The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CEIM. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion. The content on this site does not constitute endorsement of any political affiliation and does not reflect opinions from members of the staff and board.

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FECHA DE PUBLICACIÓN

febrero 24, 2022

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