In last December’s National Assembly elections, Venezuelans issued a clear rebuke to the president, handing the opposition a supermajority. The opposition bloc, led by Henry Ramos, led an attempt to organize a recall referendum—a process enshrined in the constitution—to remove Maduro. That effort suffered repeated delays courtesy of the government, but was moving forward slowly until a court abruptly suspended it altogether last week.
In response, Venezuelans in places like Merida and Maracaibo took the streets, much as they’ve done in the past to protest both the Maduro and Chavez governments. But security forces and people sympathetic to the government have pushed back violently. So far, a police officer has been killed, with at least 120 people reportedly injured and 147 arrested.
The people who have had it with Maduro are willing to take great risks to resume the recall referendum. Since Chavez’s death, global oil prices have collapsed, decimating Venezuela’s export earnings—95 percent of which came from oil in December 2014.
The one aspect of the Cuban model that Chavez understood was going to be really dicey was going to be having elections. In the modern world, if you have no elections, that clearly qualifies you as a dictatorship. But [the government of] Chavez was rich enough, he had enough money, and he was popular enough, [and] charismatic enough, that he could get away with having elections and win them because there was plenty of money around and everybody liked Chavez.
In the last three years, you don’t have Chavez and you don’t have money. The math is fairly easy to do. The last survey I saw had Maduro losing on the recall question eight to one. That’s where we are now. They’ve understood that if they’re going to hang on to power—that is clearly their priority—there just can’t be any more elections. And the opposition has understood that, if you let this one go, that’s it. Game, set, match.
It’s really difficult to get across how badly governed the country is. If you just describe what happens, [you sound] like a shrill, far-right-wing lunatic who’s describing some kind of Fox News dystopia. But, it’s like that. [The government has] taken over virtually all of the large companies. [It has] taken over most of the mid-size manufacturing companies—everything that makes something you might want to consume. The few [it] hasn’t taken over, you’ve created this regulatory nightmare around them where you can’t do anything and nothing works. Nothing works. Businesses can’t produce. That sort of worked when oil prices were very high, because [under those conditions] who needs to make anything? You sell oil, you get money, and you buy stuff abroad. You just import your way out of the crisis. Oil prices fall and suddenly the basic lunacy of trying to run the country this way comes home very clearly.
People are hungry. The thing that’s been shocking [to] us here is the democratization of hunger and political insecurity. Even people who aren’t hungry are one mishap away from being hungry. When there is no food, people want a change.
What’s really different this year is that the moderates are calling on the opposition to march. When Henrique Capriles and Henry Ramos, the head of the National Assembly who is a 72-year-old legal scholar and old-style politician, calls on 100,000 opposition supporters to march to the presidential palace and kick the guy out—Venezuelans hear that and it’s like “Holy shit. This is not what we expect the opposition to be doing.”
The military had been pushing for the recall referendum to go through because what they don’t want to be put in is this kind of situation. But does that mean that they are quasi-democrats who want to get rid of this government, and that there’s going to be a coup? No, I don’t think that. Part of what you have to keep in mind with the military in this kind of scenario is the role of Cuban intelligence. There are tens of thousands of Cuban support-trainers and military-trainers in Venezuela, and everybody knows that a very significant portion of them are spies. That was done very much on purpose by Chavez as sort of coup insurance. So I don’t think you’re looking at a kind of coup scenario. You’re looking much more at a scenario where orders are given and they’re not carried out and you have a sort of an uncontrollable chain of subordination.
SOURCES – The Atlantic