With Venezuela’s elections weeks behind us, the still firmly seated president Nicolás Maduro has released two Chevron employees, detained since April. Their arrests came in the context of an anti-corruption investigation that produced dozens of other arrests. Their release comes days after Joshua Holt, an American citizen, was released from prison after spending two years under arrest without trial.
And while there is much to celebrate in the gesture, the surrounding by which it is consumed is dismal. Years of economic catastrophe defined by an oil crisis that has struck an undiversified national portfolio have spelled doom across the board. Of course, exacerbating all of this is the legacy of a failed left project that refuses to realize its failure and retreat, preferring instead to hold on to executive control at all costs.
The Organization of American States released a document, prepared by a panel of investigators, leading up to its 48th General Assembly held on the 6th of June. The paper draws a dark image of the political development in Venezuela. Among the findings were allegations that more than “8,000 people have been extrajudicially executed since 2015 and more than 12,000 people have been arbitrarily detained since the presidential elections of 2013.”
While one can question the legitimacy of allegations coming out of the OAS (an organization built specifically to deter left-wing movements in Latin America), what is clear is that these allegations, in fact always at the center of public discourse around Chavismo, are reaching a fever pitch. A discursive shift has occurred defined by the call to action.
The New York Times, an outlet that can hardly be criticized for promoting right-wing propaganda, released an editorial shortly after the May 20 election, that found Maduro still seating in the president’s chair. This editorial said clearly and boldly, “it is clear that Mr. Maduro must go.” What followed is a prescription that called for Latin American-led “choke of funds” that would force Maduro and the socialists out of office.
Such a call, while probably well intentioned and certainly well-argued, abstracts the real pressures and forces, and thus the conflicts it would provoke. As of today, the country has already suffered a 30 percent contraction of its economy, which has pushed more than a million people to flee and search for better living conditions elsewhere. The creation of even more shortage would only condense the pressure that already defines social life and worsen the condition for the population as a whole.
It is hard to imagine the embattled socialists giving up under more pressure – a million economic refugees have not moved them, there is no reason to believe that two million would suddenly do so. What is more likely is that an increase in pressure would give rise to another power, one that is already emerging but as of today still kept in check: the military. Foreign Policy’s José R. Cárdenas already argued that already under the current conditions, all roads are leading to a military coup to purge the socialist element.
Of course, whether this coup will lead to a strong dictatorship (like the one that developed in Chile after the US-backed coup against Allende) or a contested dictatorship, with an extended civil war is not predictable and based on contingent forces. However, what is clear is that Cárdenas is correct: given the constellation of forces, their relationships, and their pressures, we see a coup or militaristic confrontation as the most likely event on Venezuela’s horizon. Since the conditions that would follow hold a variety of wildcards for local as well as international relations, calls for increasing the pressure should be handled with caution.