Venezuela’s com­ing civil war

Maduro is arm­ing his thugs to crush the demo­cratic hopes of his des­per­ate peo­ple

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By David A. Keene

As Amer­i­can pub­lic at­ten­tion has been fo­cus­ing on ter­ror at­tacks in Paris, the cri­sis in Syria and the nu­clear-armed lu­natic run­ning North Korea, Venezuela to our south is about to ex­plode into vi­o­lence and civil war with in­cal­cu­la­ble con­se­quences in our own hemi­sphere. The “Bo­li­var­ian Revo­lu­tion” that be­gan with the com­ing to power of Hugo Chavez in 1999 and con­tin­ues un­der his suc­ces­sor Ni­co­las Maduro has de­stroyed the na­tion’s econ­omy and its demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.

Last week a dozen or more pro­test­ers died as hun­dreds of thou­sands took to the streets of Caracas and other Venezue­lan cities de­mand­ing elec­tions, food and medicine. Thou­sands of Venezue­lans are flee­ing to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, cre­at­ing a refugee cri­sis that threatens to tax the abil­ity of neigh­bor­ing gov­ern­ments to pro­vide ser­vices not only to the refugees but to their own cit­i­zens. Venezuela is al­ready among the world’s most vi­o­len­ce­prone na­tions with ram­pant crime and a homi­cide rate al­most 20 times that of the United States. It is es­ti­mated that govern­ment officials and their cronies have looted as much as $11 bil­lion from the state-owned oil com­pany

alone, and Venezuela is to­day ranked by Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional as hav­ing the 10th most-cor­rupt govern­ment on earth.

A re­cent In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund report sug­gests that the na­tion’s un­em­ploy­ment rate of 25 per­cent can be expected to in­crease as the econ­omy shrunk by a full 18per­cent in just the last year; inflation this year is expected to reach 720 per­cent and could go to 2,000 per­cent next year.

Mr. Maduro and his hench­man blame the na­tion’s prob­lems on cap­i­tal­ism and the United States, but the peo­ple of Venezuela beg to dif­fer. A re­cent poll shows that he has a “neg­a­tive” rat­ing among his own peo­ple ex­ceed­ing 70 per­cent, which ex­plains why he is me­thod­i­cally jail­ing his op­po­nents and do­ing all he can to avoid any­thing re­sem­bling a free elec­tion.

The swift slide to­ward to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism in Venezuela has been con­demned by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States, the United States has slapped sanc­tions on Venezuela’s vice pres­i­dent for drug traf­fick­ing, and Pres­i­dent Trump has even tweeted a de­mand that Mr. Maduro release his main op­po­nent from prison.

The im­me­di­ate cri­sis stems not just from the eco­nomic col­lapse or the seizure of the Gen­eral Mo­tors fa­cil­ity that up­set some Amer­i­cans, but from pub­lic out­rage at Mr. Maduro’s less-than-sub­tle dis­man­tling of the na­tion’s demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. When his op­po­si­tion won su­per­ma­jor­ity con­trol of the na­tion’s leg­is­la­ture, he had a Supreme Court he controls take over the leg­isla­tive process, ban his chief po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent from run­ning for of­fice for 15 years and block the op­po­si­tion’s ef­fort to force a re­call elec­tion, even though sup­port­ers had col­lected 10 times the num­ber of signatures re­quired.

Mr. Maduro be­lieves like the late Mao Ze­dong that elec­tions are for fools and that true po­lit­i­cal power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Af­ter spend­ing sev­eral years con­fis­cat­ing firearms from his fel­low cit­i­zens, he is now promis­ing to rearm those loyal to him so they can help him re­main in power. Last week, Mr. Maduro pledged to arm 100,000 of his loy­al­ist sup­port­ers so they can help save his revo­lu­tion and warned those who op­pose him that he fore­sees de­ploy­ing as many as a mil­lion armed sup­port­ers against his ad­ver­saries if that proves nec­es­sary.

In an ear­lier era, Ger­many’s Nazis came to power with as­sis­tance of armed thugs known as “Brown Shirts” who threat­ened, at­tacked and of­ten killed po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries who dared ques­tion Adolf Hitler’s views. When Hugo Chavez was elected in 1999, he cre­ated and fos­tered a sim­i­lar or­ga­ni­za­tion known as the “Na­tional Bo­li­var­ian Mili­tia” made up of loy­al­ist civil­ian vol­un­teers will­ing to do his bid­ding. These mili­ti­a­men have ties both to the govern­ment and to groups of thugs known as “Colec­tivos” as well as mur­der­ous mo­tor­cy­cle gangs de­scribed by the na­tion’s vice pres­i­dent as the “iron knights” of the Bo­li­var­ian revo­lu­tion.

Mr. Maduro’s mod­ern Brown Shirts have at­tacked syn­a­gogues, driven thou­sands of Jews to flee the coun­try and are now tar­get­ing Catholic churches deemed dis­loyal to their max­i­mum leader. They spend most of their time, how­ever, ha­rass­ing jour­nal­ists less than fully com­mit­ted to the Bo­li­var­ian Revo­lu­tion and are de­ployed en masse against pro-democ­racy demon­stra­tors who dare to take to the streets to protest the na­tion’s slide down the slip­pery slope to to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism.

This is not likely to end well as Mr. Maduro pre­pares for war with his own peo­ple, but he shouldn’t worry too much, as Cuba’s for­eign min­is­ter last week warned Mr. Maduro’s real and imag­ined en­e­mies that his coun­try will stand by its Venezue­lan com­rade.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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