Specter of coup, surge in vi­o­lence haunt Venezuela

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Alexan­dra Ulmer

Venezuela ap­pears to be slid­ing to­ward a more volatile stage of un­rest af­ter antigov­ern­ment forces looted weapons dur­ing a week­end raid on a military base and frus­tra­tion over what some see as an in­ef­fec­tual op­po­si­tion lead­er­ship boils over.

Last week’s in­stal­la­tion of an all-pow­er­ful new leg­isla­tive body run by left­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s So­cial­ist Party loy­al­ists, de­spite mas­sive protests and a global out­cry, has left many Venezue­lans feel­ing there are no more demo­cratic op­tions to op­pose the gov­ern­ment.

That sen­ti­ment may have helped trig­ger Sun­day’s raid on a military base near the city of Va­len­cia by sol­diers and armed civil­ians, in which the gov­ern­ment said two peo­ple were killed. Venezue­lan au­thor­i­ties say they are hunt­ing 10 of the at­tack­ers who es­caped with a cache of weapons. In a pre-taped video, the group of more than a dozen men in mil­i­tarystyle uni­forms said they were seek­ing to re­store con­sti­tu­tional or­der and called for Maduro to step aside in fa­vor of a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment. The raid has raised the specter of a coup or a surge in al­ready se­ri­ous lev­els of vi­o­lence in the coun­try of 30 mil­lion as its slides fur­ther into an eco­nomic cri­sis and chaos.

Even be­fore Sun­day’s at­tack, Maduro’s con­sol­i­da­tion of power had left many protesters dis­ap­pointed with what they see as a quar­rel­some and self-in­ter­ested op­po­si­tion coali­tion. More than 120 peo­ple have been killed and thou­sands ar­rested in four months of un­rest that failed to pre­vent last month’s elec­tions to the new con­stituent assem­bly.

Many hard­lin­ers felt be­trayed as their lead­ers ap­peared to hes­i­tate on strat­egy and post­poned protests last week. The coali­tion’s many po­lit­i­cal par­ties have also di­verged over whether to take part in gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions in De­cem­ber, es­pe­cially af­ter wide­spread ac­cu­sa­tions of fraud in the con­stituent assem­bly elec­tion.

For the hooded youths who block roads with iron metal sheets and de­bris - form­ing the mil­i­tant fringe of an oth­er­wise broadly peace­ful protest move­ment - the frag­mented op­po­si­tion lead­er­ship is al­ready his­tory. “We have to stop be­liev­ing in the op­po­si­tion coali­tion. We can only be­lieve in our­selves,” said a young man from the An­dean state of Tachira, who quit univer­sity to move to Cara­cas and join the protests. The 20-year-old, whose face was cov­ered with a T-shirt as he bran­dished a home­made petrol bomb, de­clined to give his name for fear of reprisal. A new pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor, named by the con­stituent assem­bly in its first ses­sion on Satur­day, has pledged to crack down hard on the de­mon­stra­tors.

Con­flict ahead?

Gov­ern­ment re­pres­sion, how­ever, threat­ens to push mil­i­tants within the protest move­ment un­der­ground and into the for­ma­tion of para­mil­i­tary or rebel groups in a coun­try awash with weapons, ac­cord­ing to po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and poll­ster Luis Vi­cente Leon. “As the gov­ern­ment rad­i­cal­izes, th­ese groups will tend to grow and the fu­ture could be full of con­flict,” Leon told Reuters.

He did not elab­o­rate, but other an­a­lysts have also spo­ken of the threat of a low-in­ten­sity civil war in Venezuela bar­ring some re­ver­sal in the coun­try’s cur­rent de­cline. In what could be a har­bin­ger of more vi­o­lent tac­tics by protesters, an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice wounded seven po­lice of­fi­cers on mo­tor­bikes dur­ing the elec­tion of the con­stituent assem­bly on July 30. Maduro has said he is fac­ing an “armed in­sur­rec­tion” de­signed to end so­cial­ism in Latin Amer­ica and let a US-backed busi­ness elite get its hands on the OPEC na­tion’s mas­sive crude re­serves.

On the sur­face, at least, the prospect of a de­ci­sive military coup to oust the for­mer union leader, who was nar­rowly elected in 2013 af­ter be­ing hand-picked by for­mer Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez to suc­ceed him, seems far off.

There have been no out­ward signs of any split be­tween Maduro and the military lead­er­ship, which con­tin­ues to pub­licly back him. But the pur­ported leader of Sun­day’s raid on the military base, fugi­tive for­mer Na­tional Guard captain Juan Car­los Caguar­i­pano, has called on his “broth­ers in arms” to dis­obey orders from military lead­ers.

And Os­car Perez, a rogue po­lice pi­lot who at­tacked gov­ern­ment build­ings in a he­li­copter at­tack in Cara­cas in June, has said he is keep­ing up the fight while on the run. “We sup­port the military up­ris­ings,” said Maria Ro­driguez, 35, a cheese seller who was block­ing roads in Cara­cas’ wealth­ier Al­tamira dis­trict on Sun­day. “We cit­i­zens can’t do this alone.”

De­mor­al­ized protesters

Many of her fel­low op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers, how­ever, are ex­hausted af­ter four months of street demon­stra­tions and dis­rup­tions to daily life, which ul­ti­mately failed to make Maduro ac­cept op­po­si­tion de­mands. Turnout at marches called by the op­po­si­tion has fiz­zled in the last few weeks, and some peo­ple just want to re­turn to work quickly in the coun­try plagued with empty food shelves, run­away in­fla­tion and a fourth straight year of re­ces­sion.

The op­po­si­tion’s at­tempt at a re­call ref­er­en­dum against Maduro was scut­tled by au­thor­i­ties last year. The op­po­si­tion-led congress has been ef­fec­tively neu­tral­ized and the Supreme Court, stacked with Maduro’s So­cial­ist Party al­lies, has been fully sup­port­ive of a left­ist leader the United States and oth­ers call a “dic­ta­tor.” Op­po­si­tion lead­ers have long been seen as out of touch with or­di­nary Venezue­lans, and the coun­try’s grow­ing num­ber of poor peo­ple, but they con­tinue urg­ing unity and hope for the fu­ture. “Th­ese 130 days of strug­gle have not been in vain,” said Julio Borges, the pres­i­dent of the op­po­si­tion-gov­erned congress, over the week­end.—Reuters

CARA­CAS: A cutout of Venezuela’s late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez stands out among sup­port­ers dur­ing a rally back­ing the new Con­sti­tu­tional Assem­bly out­side the Na­tional Assem­bly build­ing in Cara­cas on Mon­day.—AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.