Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Hill Times Books Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Global

Venezuela on the brink

By Gwynne Dyer      

A brazen attack on a military barracks is stoking fears that the South American country is hurling towards civil war.

Venezuela remains an unsettling 'tinderbox,' with the beleaguered government of President Nicolás Maduro distributing weapons to devoted supporters in the face of spiralling anti-government protests, such as this one earlier in the spring, and the threat of mutiny among the military rank and file, writes Gwynne Dyer. Photograph courtesy of Nelson Dordelly Rosales
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

There are two stories about the assault on Fuerte Paramacay military barracks in Carabobo state on Sunday. The Venezuelan government says that half of the 20 attackers were killed or captured, and the rest are being hunted down. Sgt. Giomar Flores, who defected from the Venezuelan navy in June and now lives in Colombia, told The Guardian that the attack had been “a complete success.”

“We took four battalions and one put up resistance,” he said, claiming to be in direct contact with the leader of the attack, Capt. Juan Caguaripano. The rebels took “a large amount of weapons,” mostly assault rifles, and got away with no casualties.

Whichever story you believe, witnesses agree that large numbers of civilians living near the base in Valencia, the capital of Carabobo, spilled out onto the streets in support of the rebels. Civil war in Venezuela is not yet a reality, but there is ample dry tinder lying around just waiting for a match.

The attack came just one week after the election of a “constituent assembly” by the supporters of President Nicolás Maduro’s beleaguered government. It’s hardly surprising that the opposition boycotted the vote, because the purpose of the new assembly is to rewrite the constitution and save Maduro from defeat at the next election.

That’s not Maduro’s explanation for it, of course. He says it is the only way to bring “reconciliation and peace” to the country after months of political and economic crisis, but everybody outside his Socialist Party sees it as a constitutional coup.

The constituent assembly, which Maduro created by decree, consists exclusively of 545 Maduro supporters. There is no time limit on how long it will sit, nor any restrictions on what it can do. It can, for example, postpone the presidential elections that are due next year indefinitely. This matters a lot, since Maduro would certainly lose in a fair vote—recent estimates put his popular support at around 20 percent.

More immediately, it can dissolve the legitimate National Assembly, in which the opposition parties won a two-thirds majority in the December 2015 election. And it has already fired Prosecutor-General Luisa Ortega, a member of the Socialist Party and former Maduro ally who broke with him over his increasingly arbitrary behaviour.

The most threatening thing Ortega did was open an investigation last week into the vote on July 30th that created the constituent assembly. Since only Maduro’s supporters voted, that would seem irrelevant—but in mid-July the opposition had held an informal referendum in which seven million people voted against the constituent assembly.

Maduro therefore felt the need to claim that more than eight million Venezuelans had voted for the new assembly. Even that would not really be a very impressive turnout in a country of 30 million people—but then the company that supplied the voting machines, SmartMatic, said that the result had been deliberately inflated. At least a million extra votes had been added.

Antonio Mugica, the chief executive of SmartMatic, said that all previous elections in Venezuela using their machines had been conducted fairly. “It is, therefore, with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout figures on 30 July for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with,” he said.

It may have been worse than that. Internal figures from the National Electoral Council (probably shown to Reuters by Luis Rondón, the only one of the five NEC directors who is not a government loyalist), show that only 3.7 million people had voted by 5.30 pm – and the polls closed at 7 pm. Ortega appointed two prosecutors to investigate the other four directors of the NEC, but she is gone now and the investigation will not continue.

“This is a dictatorship,” Luisa Ortega said on Sunday, and she is right. Maduro has concluded that he and his Socialist Party can only stay in power by suppressing all opposition, and he is probably right. The regime he inherited in 2013 on the death of its founder, Hugo Chavez, was once genuinely popular and won free elections, but four years of falling oil prices, economic mismanagement, and growing corruption have put an end to that.

The street protests against Maduro have lasted four months now, and at least 120 people have been killed. Inflation is 1,600 per cent, food and medicines are scarce, and the murder rate is among the highest in the world. The generals are richly rewarded for serving the regime, but rank-and-file soldiers earn a couple of dozen dollars a month.

Venezuela is a tinderbox. There are hundreds of thousands of devoted supporters of the “Chavista” regime, and the government has distributed weapons to them. If the report that most soldiers did not resist the attack on the Valencia barracks is true, the army may be about to split. The violence in the streets is mutating, with more police casualties as well as the daily toll of demonstrators.

There is no worse disaster for a country than a civil war, but Venezuela is drifting towards one.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning


Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.
More in News

NPR, Politico latest U.S. news outlets expanding northward, shaking up Canadian media environment

News|By Emily Haws
Hill reporters say it's not a direct threat to them, but some worry about how a shift in news consumption to U.S. outlets could eat away at Canadian outlets' revenues.

Refugee advocates dispute Canada facing ‘crisis’ over arrival of claimants from U.S. border, NDP says ‘Conservatives misrepresent issue’

Politicians and some journalists have been loose with the words 'illegal' and 'crisis,' which doesn't apply to Canada's situation, says Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada.

Centre Block occupants prepare for summer clear-out

Though plans are still not concrete, roughly 20 Liberal MPs, nine Conservative MPs, five NDP MPs, 10 Senators, and Senate administration staff will be moving this summer.

High-level bureaucrat’s public sector exit prompts shuffle among Phoenix fixers

News|By Emily Haws
Marc Lemieux has taken over from assistant deputy minister Danielle May-Cuconato, who was in charge of the project management office behind the Phoenix fix.

Some politicos question Grégoire Trudeau’s involvement in government activities, others say she deserves more credit for her work

News|By Emily Haws
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has been given an honorary title by Parks Canada and appeared at a 2018 post-budget announcement with Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, among other activities.

PMO mum over whether Trudeau raised concerns over ‘rising tide’ of anti-Semitism with the Latvian PM

News|By Neil Moss
The feds can be more forthright to condemn Nazi glorification and anti-Semitism in Europe, says a leading Jewish Canadian advocacy group.

House committee votes to examine feds’ response to migrant issue, calls in three ministers to testify

News|By Jolson Lim
At a time of increased tension between the federal and Ontario governments over who should cough up money for them, the committee voted unanimously to study the federal response to and impact of migrant crossings on some cities and provinces.

Trudeau’s handling of groping allegation has ‘terribly set back’ progress on women’s issues, puts him in tricky situation too, say political players

'I've had an inbox full of messages from victims saying, 'What do I do now? Because I'm really worried that the tide is turning back,' says Kathleen Finlay, CEO of the Centre for Patient Protection.

Gun rights groups targeting Senators, MP offices with summer firearms bill campaigns

One group promises to ‘flood’ MP offices with complaints about Bill C-71, while another says it is ‘already hearing from nervous Liberals.’