“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

― Socrates

The United States’ sanctions against the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro as well as rampant mismanagement and corruption have crippled the once-thriving Venezuelan economy. Now the country faces critical shortages of food and medicine, extreme hyperinflation, a population fleeing its borders, and violent political repression.

Maduro is not a beloved figure on the world stage. His biggest supporters, Russia, China, and Cuba, wouldn’t exactly be characterized as the most open societies nor the biggest bastions of freedom in the world. 

So, in such a situation how has Maduro managed to keep his power considering his oil revenues have dried up as a result of the sanctions? By buying off his generals with prestige and money. 

If Maduro did not have the support of the military, he’d have been ousted in no time. Maduro first began to buy the military’s loyalty by creating many more general officer billets than there was a need. There are currently 312 general officers in an army of 128,000, which is essentially one general officer for every 410 soldiers. 

Handing out titles is one thing, but ensuring his generals’ allegiance takes cash too. So, Maduro had to find alternative cash resources. And today cocaine and cocaine trafficking is the new oil for Venezuela. Maduro and many senior members of his government and military are all in on the action. Venezuela is trying to flood both the U.S. and Europe (with the help of corrupt Spanish leaders) with cocaine to keep him and his generals afloat. 

Additionally, according to a recent piece by the Miami Herald, of the Venezuelan army’s general officers, 84 of them, while on active duty, work with private companies that do business with the government. Another 35 either sit on boards or have started their own private companies. 

The socialist party that runs the government decries the evils and excesses of capitalism. It even has anti-corruption laws whereby it is illegal for public officials to use their office for personal benefit, either directly or through a third party. Clearly, that doesn’t apply to either Maduro or his generals, who are getting fat at the expense of the starving public.

The rot set in in Venezuela back in 1998 with the election of Hugo Chávez, a former Lieutenant Colonel, to the presidency. Chávez instituted a “civil-military” alliance and created a new constitution whereby the military, not the civilian government drove national development. And to keep the military’s loyalty, it was Hugo Chávez personally, not the government, who was in charge of the promotion of senior officers. 

The military progressively gained more and more power over everyday life and industry. After Chávez’s death in 2013, Maduro took it one step farther, with retired military officers running 60 state-run companies. 

A general’s salary in socialist Venezuela is just $8.90 a month, yet as the Herald’s exposé shows, greed and loyalty to Maduro pay well. One general, General Hernan Akhnanton Noguera Mejía has won 47 state contracts. He’s hosted several official lavish parties, such as a barbecue for more than 600 customs and tax officials.

He has posted to his Facebook page the numerous holiday trips he’s made to Italy, Spain, Israel, Malta, and Monaco. Including a Mediterranean cruise… all on less than $9 a month.

The head of Venezuela’s military, General Vladimir Padrino López a “staunch socialist” has extensive land holdings in both Venezuela and the United States; he is also sitting on a slew of private companies. 

On March 26, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) unleashed a series of indictments on narcotrafficking charges against Maduro and other members of his regime. Federal prosecutors pledged amounts up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest of Maduro and 14 of his high-ranking officials.

The hope is that this will create cracks in the alliance between Maduro and his generals and get them to finally oust him from power. But the two parties are so deeply embedded into one another that the generals won’t turn on him easily. The fates and interests of the two are for now tied firmly to one another. Getting the military to turn, will not be easy.