Venezuela is in for regime change. Methods and tools – carefully chosen, calibrated, sequenced and timed – have been set in motion to yield the desired result. Domestic and external actors are moving in concert for the kill. It is the most serious effort at regime change since the failed military coup of 2002, which had ended in ignominy for the Opposition and a setback to the United States.
The makeshift Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) is united in its common hatred for Chavismo – the ideology that ostensibly guided President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and his successor, President Nicolas Maduro. It refuses to recognise the 2013 election of Maduro.
The Venezuelan opposition decided to finally upstage Maduro after its unexpected victory in the parliamentary election held in December 2015. The strategy is to assault the entire governmental machinery and gut the Constitution of 1999.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) is under attack; CNE had found last year’s Opposition demand for a referendum to recall Maduro as unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court is the most hated institution. It had set aside the election of three deputies for irregularities. In defiance, the Opposition-controlled National Assembly still swore in the ‘ineligible’ members. A constitutional bench eventually held the National Assembly guilty of contempt of the Court, and stripped the house of its legislative powers on 29 March 2017.
The judicial order was rescinded three days later after the Attorney General Luisa Ortega opined otherwise. The impugned injunction has become the cause celebre for the violent protest – now in its tenth week. The building housing the highest court was set ablaze and, a week later, strafed from a helicopter. The office of the ombudsman never receives a complaint from the Opposition. Julio Borges, President of the National Assembly finds election a ‘trick’ to distract the Opposition from its overarching goal of violent regime-change.
The Opposition will boycott every election held under Maduro – for the National Constituent Assembly in July 2017, gubernatorial in December and presidential in 2018. Violence is carefully managed and choreographed by the international media. It is intense, localised and calibrated to provoke hard responses from law enforcement authorities. Protests are confined to posh areas of Caracas and four other big cities.
Some 17 Opposition-controlled municipalities, out of 364 nation-wide, provide the backdrop to the serial violence – valorised as ‘resistance’ by the global media. There is sort of a macabre pattern to violence: on average, one killing a day. Victims are young and male – shot by a sniper, a steel bullet using a sling-shot, or run over by a vehicle. Slingshots and steel bullets are the smuggled items most seized by the customs authorities. Several deaths are owed to police excesses.
Maduro appealed to Pope Francis to ask the Opposition not to use children as human shields. The police is humiliated with ‘bombs’ made of human excrement, fired at them with slingshots. A group of women protestors stripped naked to shame the soldiers for not revolting. Race and colour is at the heart of the political conflict. Opposition leaders and elite Venezuelans in general look European.
They want to restore the power and privilege they held for forty years (1958- 98) when politics was under ‘Full Stop’. Chavismo ‘empowered’ millions of the ‘mixed’ and ‘coloured’. Protestors burnt alive an Afro-Venezuelan, Maduro says, “just because he had dark skin like you and me.”
The Opposition gambit to undermine the two major pillars of regime support has not worked – at least so far. Barrios have not insurrected; and armed forces scorn a coup. The much-awaited ‘Caracas Spring’ has not arrived. It is a war in cyberspace where a different political narrative is under construction. It is said that Venezuela is in the midst of a ‘humanitarian crisis’.
No one substantiates the data; it is reported that 80 per cent of Venezuelans are struggling to make two ends meet. A purported refugee crisis is looming large which would destabilise the region.
Hungry Venezuelans, it is said, would rush into Colombia, Brazil and Curacao. A preemptive action in the form of regime change is thus a humanitarian imperative. It is a two-pronged strategy: violence will allow the regime to collapse in ignominy. The calibrated violence however has failed to split the regime, especially the armed forces. The second prong at work is dismantlement of regime. Organisation of American States (OAS) is the arena; and Secretary-General Luis Almagro is the pack hunter. Almagro is working like the chief executive of a supranational body which has jurisdiction over the national sovereignty of Venezuela.
He calls Maduro a ‘dictator’ and swears to expel Venezuela under the Democracy Clause of the OAS. He writes reports, based on press handouts of the Opposition, and declares a ‘constitutional breakdown’ in the country.
He violated every stated norm and reported Venezuela for action. Foreign Ministers of OAS countries met in Washington, D.C. on 31 May, and Cancun on 19 June 2017 to deliberate and act on the USsponsored motion for ‘solving the crisis in Venezuela’.
The motion failed for want of the required two-third vote. Venezuela escaped the dragnet. But the hunt is on. US want OAS to set up a ‘contact group’ to open negotiations with Maduro, including possibly his early exit. Brazil, Mexico and others want to have an ‘international humanitarian assistance channel’ to supply food and medicine, bypassing state authorities.
For Peru, it is a matter of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. President Pablo Kuczynski wants an arbitration commission of Peru, Colombia and Brazil or Chile vs. Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia to sort Venezuela out. The entire constitutional bench is under sanction of US State Department.
Putting the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela is under consideration. There are three groups in OAS. A small group is opposed to intervention. OAS-14 is the group of bigwigs – US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, etc. It wants OASmediated dialogue, election and failing this, intervention.
Fourteen small and micro-states of the Caribbean want Venezuela on board for resolution of the crisis. Caribbean bloc can be co-opted; a call from the US State Department would do it. It is proposed that an OAS ‘coalition of the willing’ would do the ‘humanitarian intervention’.
Rex Tillerson knows Venezuela best. Exxon Mobil is the only oil company that quit Venezuela in 2007; it refuses settlement for the nationalisation of its assets.
The writer is Professor, Latin American Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.