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Ten things keeping Maduro in power revisited – Latin American Risk Report – 17 de Diciembre 2019

Venezuela’s de facto president continues to have cash, foreign allies and loyal security forces

About one year ago I published an article about ten things keeping Maduro in power. While I’ve written several articles during the year about the threats to Maduro’s stability and still believe he remains quite vulnerable to losing power in 2020, that article in December 2018 remains among my most accurate as Venezuela’s de facto president remains in power as 2019 closes. Many of the same factors that were keeping Maduro in power at the end of 2018 remain at the end of 2019. In spite of a major push by Juan Guaido and the international community, they haven’t managed to undermine these factors.

1) Legitimacy of the status quo – Maduro lacks democratic legitimacy and popular support. There is almost no chance he could win a free and fair election. Over 50 countries recognize a different president of Venezuela. But the fact that he started the year in charge remains the key reason he is able to remain in charge. Momentum and incumbent advantage are powerful forces in politics for both democracies and authoritarian regimes. The two decades of Chavista rule have included numerous institutional maneuvers that make change difficult.

2) Balance of power based on fear of the unknown – The vast majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone. Rumors suggest that many in his own coalition want him removed. But there remains significant fear (and rightly so!) about what comes next. Many of the individuals who have the access and ability to remove Maduro from power are afraid that they would lose power, influence and wealth in the ensuing power struggle and they very well might be correct in that assumption.

3) The security forces – There were defections in 2019. Several thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen and national guardsmen left their posts and never returned. A few key generals including the head of Sebin defected as well. And yet, the vast majority of the leadership and the lower level forces remained with Maduro. That continued support from the security forces comes from a combination of duty, corruption, and fear as well as the knowledge that those who have tried to turn against Maduro so far have failed and faced severe consequences.

4) Repression, surveillance and counter-intelligence – The government continues to shoot, torture and illegally detain political opponents. The FAES raid poor neighborhoods and execute young men. Military counter-intelligence ensures the top generals and the rank and file feel a climate of fear and do not dare to actively plot a coup. Sanctions and threat of prosecution does not appear to have slowed the levels of repression. Though there were indications that some military and police units refused to engage in brutal tactics in 2019, others including FAES and DGCIM have more than filled the gap.

5) Cuba – The Diaz-Canel regime continues to support Maduro and neither the international community nor the Guaido coalition has given Cuba a good reason to stop doing so. Cuba provides political advice and intelligence personnel who help Maduro keep his own security forces in line and undermine plots to oust him.

6) China, Russia, Turkey, Iran – Of the four, Russia has been the most important for keeping Maduro in power during 2019. Russian military forces and security contractors have an active presence in Venezuela. Russian financial ties and Rosneft oil trades have been among the most critical factors in assisting Maduro in evading sanctions. The other three still matter in terms of providing support and financing, but Russia is the Black Knight who protects Maduro more than any other.

7) Lack of regional options and will – Most of the region supports Juan Guaido. The Lima Group publishes regular statements. The OAS has discussed Venezuela. TIAR has been invoked. Unfortunately, outside of strongly worded statements and some limited individual sanctions, very little has actually been done. This has gotten worse since the wave of protests and anti-incumbent sentiment hit the region starting in September. Macri lost his reelection. Chile, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced destabilizing protests. Bolsonaro has shown himself not eager to involve Brazil. There is little reason to believe the region will be more focused on Venezuela’s need for a transition in 2020 than they have been this past year.

8) Food as a political weapon – On one hand, compared to 2018, there is an increasing amount of dollars, importation of food has been smoothed out, and there are fewer shortages. If you have dollars, you can generally get what you want in Caracas. On the other hand, most Venezuelans don’t have dollars and don’t live in Caracas. That means a majority of Venezuelans in December 2019 still fail to eat three meals per day. Children go hungry and malnourishment remains a stark problem in the country. The government continues to use its leverage over food supplies and prices to manipulate the public.

9) Refugees – The exodus of people leaving Venezuela now numbers around five million. By encouraging people to flee the country, the government gets rid of a portion of the population that would otherwise stay and protest. The mass migration also increases the amount of remittances returning to the country.

10) Cash – Sanctions evasion, corruption, and the firesale of gold have given Maduro just enough cash to hold on. The full dollarization of the economy to take advantage of remittance money has extended his rule by a few more months, though it will exacerbate tensions with those still being paid in Bolivars including government workers and police. While Maduro and his inner circle have probably not had their best year in terms of personal finances, most of the Venezuelan population is suffering far more.

Analysis: Cash, Allies and Loyalty
Maduro’s removal is almost certainly contingent on a change of three factors:

his cash flow,

his international alliances,

and the views of his inner circle and the security forces.

Those three factors are interdependent. His international alliances are key to his cash flow and the money has a direct impact on the loyalty of those around him.

The regime is running out of gold and cannot mine more fast enough out of the Orinoco belt to replace what is being strip mined out of the Central Bank. The oil industry – while exports increased in November – provides far fewer cash-producing barrels than it did at the end of 2018. Russia helps the sanctions evasion and ships pallets of hard currency in exchange for gold and oil, but as I’ve argued previously, Russia is likely pulling more resources from Venezuela than it is providing Maduro.

None of the above ten points I’ve listed are dependent on Juan Guaido, others within the coalition of Maduro opponents, or the population at large. That’s not to say that opposition cohesiveness, infighting and strategy don’t matter. They certainly play a role in keeping pressure on Maduro both domestically and internationally. The opposition’s recent infighting helps keep Maduro in power, and the Maduro regime’s attempts to repress and break apart the Guaido coalition shows that the de facto president understands that his opponents matter.

The big shift, as of the end of 2019, is the dollarization of the economy. This reversal of a long-held Chavista policy of currency controls has provided relief to the top levels of the economic pyramid. This includes many who are among the sectors who led protests in 2007, 2014 and 2017. However, dollarization has increased inequality and made life more difficult for the poorest as well as government workers. If a protest wave hits Venezuela in 2020, it very well might be led by the sectors that have been left out by the dollarization of the economy rather than the traditional opposition. That would present a different public pressure threat than the Chavistas have faced in the past two decades. It could potentially shake the loyalty of those around Maduro.

Maduro wants new legislative elections and Guaido has long insisted that new presidential elections are necessary, but with Maduro leaving power as a precondition. Any new election process, whether or not the opposition participates, is a risk to Maduro and his hold on the legitimacy of the status quo. Elections are often a key moment of pressure, even for authoritarian regimes that manipulate and abuse the process.

El periodista de Antena 3 que viajó a Venezuela: “Es peor de lo que parece” – Mundo 24 – 23 de Septiembre 2017

12243192_975489865823352_3796946823045104902_n.jpgTeo Ibernón, autor del reportaje periodístico que ha dado dolores de cabeza al gobierno, dijo “lo que te encuentras ahí es peor de lo que parece”, refiriéndose a una cruel realidad venezolana que va más allá de lo que reseñan los medios de comunicación internacionales, y escapa de lo que cualquiera pueda imaginar. “Los venezolanos carecen prácticamente de todo, y se levantan a las cuatro de la mañana para tomar posición en una cola donde, con suerte, tal vez logre comprar pan, harina, un pollo…”, anadió el periodista.

Ibernón hizo especial referencia a la situación de los hospitales, afirmando que “los médicos piden a los pacientes que vayan a la farmacia a comprar no sólo antibióticos o analgésicos, sino hasta las mismas jeringuillas o catéteres”.

El periodista reitera de Antena 3 aseguró que “no hay nada, al ver la situación critica en que se encuentra el Hospital Universitario de Caracas: “Es que no hay nada, ni aspirinas para paliar los dolores que causa el virus del zika. La situación es tremenda, de crisis total”.

Agregó que la gente se muere por falta de tratamiento. Algo que confirman los mismos médicos, algo especialmente doloroso en el caso de los niños, cuyo índice de mortalidad “se ha disparado de manera brutal”.

Los precios de los productos básicos están regulados por el Gobierno chavista de Nicolás Maduro, en un intento desesperado de controlar una economía que ya hace tiempo escapó de su control. El pan, los huevos, el azúcar, los pañales… el producto que en cualquier país de Sudamérica se puede adquirir libremente, en la nación más rica del continente no es posible o se convierte en una epopeya bíblica.

Los venezolanos más adinerados, y también los más necesitados, recurren al contrabando de los tristementes ‘bachaqueros’. El Whatsapp y el boca a boca se convierten en los medios informativos más preciados para enterarse de en qué supermercado aún quedan pañales o están a punto de agotarse los pollos.

En Venezuela no puedes comprar lo que quieres cuando quieres, sino el día que te ha asignado el Gobierno. ¿Cómo hace la gente para guardar una cola durante horas, si tiene que trabajar? “Como todo el mundo está igual, la gente sabe que al menos un día a la semana vas a faltar a tu trabajo, porque tienes que hacer cola para adquirir productos básicos. A todo el mundo le pasa lo mismo”.

En el caso de los funcionarios, la presión laboral disminuye. El gobierno les permite trabajar solo de lunes a miércoles para ahorrar energía, con el consiguiente perjuicio en los servicios públicos que prestan.

Los dos reportajes que ha emitido Antena 3 se hicieron en una “sensación de inseguridad absoluta y permanente”, no sólo por las presiones del Gobierno, al que pidieron la visa de trabajo y del que recibieron la callada por respuesta (el equipo de periodistas tuvo que entrar en condición de turistas) sino porque las calles de Caracas están infestadas de delincuentes “ capaces de matar por cualquier cosa”. Cualquier cosa puede ser, por ejemplo, “un ‘smartphone’ o un reloj ostentoso”, razón por la cual los periodistas circularon por las calles siempre con chófer y atentos a cualquier signo sospechoso a su alrededor.

Es el día a día de los venezolanos. Cada uno de ellos puede contar historias espantosas que han vivido muy de cerca: el secuestro de un hermano, el asesinato de un primo, un robo en carne propia, como el que denunció la funcionaria venezolana Patricia Tagliaferri en un dramático vídeo que se hizo viral.

Aunque hablaron con todos venezolanos de toda condición, advertían que los comités de vigilancia chavistas que existen cada barrio de la ciudad se muestran especialmente reacios a facilitar el trabajo de la prensa extranjera.

Hace un mes, tras la emisión de la primera parte del reportaje, el presidente Nicolás Maduro atacó duramente a la cadena de televisión Antena 3, a la que llamó “televisora de los corruptos y bandidos, de los ladrones, que seguramente están todos metidos en los Papeles de Panamá”.


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