Fresh protests have hit Venezuela, triggered by a shortage of goods and the continuing rise in prices for basic food and medical supplies. Other protests on Monday were triggered by the arrest of around two dozen National Guardsman who reportedly tried to overthrow the president, according to the Associated Press.
Fires were still smoldering around the capital city of Caracas, where teargas canisters and upturned dumpsters littered some neighborhoods.
More demonstrations are expected on Wednesday following what the government classified as a thwarted coup in the past couple of days.
There are also reports that a group of Venezuelan soldiers have crossed into Colombia, where they have issued a statement denouncing the embattled government of President Nicolas Maduro.
With signs of a military revolt, as well as the Bank of England announcement that it is won’t (yet) release some $550 million in gold from Maduro’s government, we have to wonder: Can a president without a loyal military and access to liquid funds continue to rule a country where he is increasingly unpopular?
Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves, has been hit with sanctions and embargoes from multiple nations (including the United States) over what critics say is the subversion of democracy and deterioration of human rights.
“The military is unfortunately the decisive actor in Venezuela right now,” said Benjamin Gedan, senior adviser at the Wilson Center’s Latin American program.
Gone are the days (for now) that the opposition could affect change through the legislative process and elections, and so the military holds some important cards.
Gedan, who was also the National Security Council’s South America director under the Obama administration, said one of two things could happen: a military uprising (unlikely) or the military simply refusing to repress dissent.
“Should the military do so, Venezuelans have it in their hands to affect a peaceful and democratic transition,” he said, referring specifically to the armed forces and not the National Guard. After all, Venezuela has a history of democratic government.
“All eyes are on the military,” said Gedan.
How much longer can this go on?
This crisis has been unfolding for years now, with deadly protests beginning in 2014, a savage rate of hyperinflation, major shortages, and at least 3 million Venezuelans fleeing the country.
The United States has so far contributed just over $100 million to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and it hasn’t really organized an international response in support of the migrants.
“Unfortunately, given the anti-immigrant attitude, the United States utterly lacks the credibility to do so. So while we’re restricting the access to the United States of refugees and various asylum seekers, it would be very hard for the United States to be the leader, to say that others need to be absorbing more Venezuelans and to be treating them more humanely,” said Gedan.
Neighboring countries, he added, have been “quite generous” to Venezuelans, who, with some exceptions, have not suffered much xenophobia in their host countries.
Brazil has been one of those exceptions, where with the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, Venezuelan migrants might start to face more hardships there.
Gedan said he’s fairly confident that a transition will occur “in a reasonably short timeframe” — it’ll be tough for Maduro’s government to survive this level of economic chaos.
With the currency being in a freefall, the Venezuelan government has limped on this long with help from China, which has only helped the oil sector enough to get the debts owed to it repaid, and Russia, which is a supporter of Maduro regime but doesn’t have enough cash to bail it out.
But the money is running out. Gedan points out Venezuela has defaulted on its loans, can’t refinance its debts due to U.S. sanctions, and can’t access its gold, which is its only way generating foreign exchange.
Other than considering an invasion, President Donald Trump hasn’t had much to say about Venezuela, with this administration placing consistent pressures on Maduro via sanctions. And that’s a good thing, said Gedan. Still, he adds, the White House should be focused on Venezuela in a productive way.
“I do regret that this crisis has reached this level of urgency at a time when the U.S. has no longer any credibility on the issues of democracy protection, human rights defense, and, frankly, the humane treatment of migrants,” he said.