Revolution in Venezuela: What Comes Next?
The days appear to be numbered for Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro. After years of economic collapse and growing starvation, protests against the current regime have been growing since early April. Pictures and testimonies of the violent clashes between protestors and government forces are beginning to permeate the Western media. More significant, however, may be peaceful opposition movements, such as Saturday’s march of tens of thousands of women chanting “Liberty!” to Maduro and “proffering roses to security forces who blocked their way.”
Cracks in the socialist regime’s elites also portend badly for Maduro. A Wall Street Journal interview with Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega, was notable for her open criticism of the government’s crackdown. The fact that she has not been censored for these statements demonstrates the weakness of the regime’s internal cohesion.
What happens next is most likely in the military’s hands. Their support is crucial to Maduro’s grasp on power. And their interests have been well served during the Chávez/Maduro era. While the military enjoyed a large share of Venezuela’s profits when oil prices were high, they have found ways to benefit from its chaotic decline as well. Many are directly involved in drug trafficking due to the military’s control over borders and ports. There are many other military factions involved in “opportunistic” businesses. It is unclear, however, how far the military will go in supporting violence against the protesters. There are also signs of fissures within this influential constituency. Last year, a retired major general — Cliver Alcalá — “called for a referendum to unseat Mr. Maduro.” More recently, the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, has stated that as many as “85 military officials had been arrested for dissent.”
Last week, U.S. national security advisor, H.R. McMaster met with Julio Borges, the president of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly. The White House official statement was that the two discussed “the need for the government to adhere to the Venezuelan Constitution, release political prisoners, respect the National Assembly, and hold free and democratic elections.” Hopefully, the White House is also using back channels to the Venezuelan military elites to discuss a way forward that allows the military to keep its privileged position while creating a path forward for new elections to replace Maduro.