Opinion: When the facade comes off, these leftist Socialist leaders who decry the evils of capitalism usually live in an opulent lifestyle that would make Bernie Madoff green with envy. Venezuela is a prime example.
Nicholas Maduro has a tenuous, illegal hold on the Presidency but he, like his predecessor, Hugo Chavez knows, that as long as the military supports him, the phony election shenanigans can be swept under the rug. Latin America has always been a hotbed of military coups and Venezuela has had plenty.
But once Chavez took over, he decided to do everything in his power to ensure that the military would never rise up against him or his personal successor. He used greed and bought the generals loyalty. Chavez began an inflated and arbitrary promotion system where the most loyal officers to the regime were rewarded with promotions to general or admiral. And those promotions came with all of the perks, highly inflated salaries, homes, etc.
Venezuela now has about 3000 flag officers, (generals or admirals) for an active military force of fewer than 300,000 troops. The United States is considered very top heavy with the most flag officers in our history. The U.S. currently has 920 flag officers with a total active force of about 1.3 million troops.
But the first cracks to appear in Maduro’s power came over the weekend. Back on January 23, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president and called Maduro’s sham “re-election” rigged. So, this weekend four air force officers — three generals and a female major announced on social media that they were taking the side of Guaido.
One of the officers, Gen. Jorge Oropeza Pernalete said in a video that was on Twitter “In Venezuela, it is urgent and necessary to rescue democracy and restore the rule of law,” he stated. “I call on others to repudiate Nicolas Maduro and those who are with him in the regime who have taken power in an arbitrary and authoritarian way.”
Maduro wants to nip this uprising against his power in the bud. He immediately visited several military bases as a show of force and no doubt instill fear into the hearts of the rest of the generals. Because he knows, it won’t be the generals who rally to the cause of Guaido to turn the tide. It will be the junior and mid-level officers and enlisted men that may go up against him.
The ordinary people are starving and over 2 million have fled the country and streamed across the border into Colombia. It is the lower ranks of troops, like their poorer countrymen who are dealing with a scarcity of food, runaway inflation and a lack of medicine and health care. The generals have all of that. To keep the lower ranking troops in line, the Venezuelans have installed the Cuban system of the secret police in the military that keeps a watch on everything that transpires and any whiff of disloyalty is strictly dealt with.
There are also three paramilitary political militias that harass and bully the poor in the barrios and crush any kind of dissent. These militias run between 500,000 to 1,000,000 and are poorly trained but operate in large numbers to constantly keep a lid on things in the poorer, opposition neighborhoods. Maduro claims to double the number of those by April.
And behind all of this remains the specter of a U.S. armed invasion. While remote, Maduro keeps his officers in line by repeating this threat constantly. Many of his generals, fearing reprisals from the people or being extradited to the United States, as many have taken up illegal activities and drug smuggling, have remained loyal.
After the John Bolton flap over his “5000 troops to Colombia” cryptic notepad, President Trump has reiterated that “all options” remain on the table, including an incursion. But the stakes were raised by Guaido himself.
He has asked the United States for humanitarian aid for the starving masses. USAID has prepared pallets of food and medicine to help the people. Guaido has urged the military to let these humanitarian supplies thru. Maduro equates U.S. aid as a precursor to a U.S. invasion. At a rally for his supporters this weekend, Maduro said that Venezuela “was not a nation of beggars.”
While the EU (European Union) has infuriated Maduro and the Russians by announcing that they have recognized the legitimacy of the Guaido claim to the Presidency, it now is reaching a crisis phase. The Russians and Chinese are pouring cash into the country to help prop up the Maduro regime. But lately, it seems, that the Chinese are becoming convinced that perhaps Maduro must go. The Chinese government announced last week their desire to continue working with Caracas “no matter how the situation evolves”, which is hardly a ringing endorsement.
While the military leaders have so far, not cracked down on protests in the bigger cities, allowing U.S. aid to enter is a completely different animal. The time is now for Guaido to speak with some of these generals and assure some of them that their fate is safe in the next government.
And the U.S. rattling its saber with the “all options” statement may be the push that the military leaders will need in advising Maduro that it is time to exit gracefully and retire on a beach in the worker’s paradise of Cuba to avoid an all-out civil war that no one wants.
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