Op-Ed: Venezuela – Latin America’s Iraq?

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Is it just me or does Nicolas Maduro look a lot like Saddam Hussein? After US intervention in Iraq we saw a nation that descended into civil war, mass displacement and unimaginable suffering. Could Venezuela go the same way?

First, let’s engage in a little positive thinking, a scenario where Maduro realizes that his position is untenable and calls for full and free elections for Venezuela to determine the future, allowing for national reconciliation and rebuilding to start. With such elections, sanctions are lifted, international aid and investment pours in, while Colombia and Venezuela restore full and fruitful diplomatic and trade relations. Many Venezuelans, driven from their homeland, return to rebuild their battered nation.

*This article was originally published by Semana and was reprinted by InSight Crime with permission.

Now, let us move to the other end of the scale and look at some of the worst-case scenarios.

Few serious analysts of the Venezuela situation believe that US military action in Venezuela would have anything other than negative effects. Venezuela is not Panama, and the successful 1989 US military action there cannot be replicated in Venezuela, a country more than 12 times as big, with a veritable plethora of armed and anti-American armed groups.

For the last two decades, the Chavista propaganda machine has been churning out warnings that the ‘Yankees’, working with right-wing Venezuelan oligarchs, are planning military action to take over the country’s oil deposits. It would be a shame to finally prove them right.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

The Maduro regime is not without foreign allies, and US intervention could have international repercussions, including for Colombia. It could be the one thing that actually unites disparate Venezuelan elements under Maduro.

Russia has also proven itself quite determined in standing by allies despite overwhelming odds, as in the case of Syria. China has financial interests in Venezuela of up to $60 billion. As always the international chess board has complex and competing players.

There has already been political violence with hundreds of protestors killed. The risk of further political violence is very high. The Venezuelan armed forces long ago ceded the monopoly on the use of arms.

Among a wide array of armed groups are prison gangs led by ‘pranes,’ ‘megabandas’ and ‘colectivos,’ while the militia, National Guard and Armed Forces have highly criminalized and corrupt elements prepared to use violence to achieve their ends and protect their interests.

Add to these the presence of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), dissident elements of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and illegal groups like the Rastrojos. With five decades of insurgent experience and presence in up to half of Venezuela’s 24 states, the Colombian groups alone could make any invader bleed.

The question is how many of the armed groups listed would be ready to either defend the Maduro regime to the bitter end, or engage in armed resistance against a new US-backed government. Some violence is almost inevitable and indeed the current levels of homicides in Venezuela already rival many nations engaged in civil conflict.

Organized crime has penetrated the very highest echelons of the Maduro regime. This government has increasingly turned to illegal streams of income to feed its diminishing cash flow, gold, and cocaine among them. Unable to ransack state coffers, previously their principal criminal activity, the ruling ‘boligarchia’ have had to look at other illegal streams of income. Thanks to steady gold prices and record levels of cocaine production in Colombia, these are readily available.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela: A Mafia State?

The Maduro regime was struggling to pay its bills before the latest raft of sanctions on its oil industry hit. This strangling of funds to the current government, combined with international diplomatic pressure, will force its fall. It may take some time, but that may be what is needed to find a peaceful transition.

Cracks are already showing and for all but the most diehard fanatics, there must be a dawning realization that that status quo cannot continue. The suffering of the Venezuelan people will continue in the meantime, but even if the best case scenario above comes to pass, Venezuela will take years to recover a position where the government is able to protect, educate and treat its citizens.

A civil conflict must be avoided at all costs, and to do so, the organized crime interests currently propping up Maduro must be dealt with and neutralized.

*This article was originally published by Semana and was reprinted by InSight Crime with permission.

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