Last weekend, during our latest reporting on the whirlwind collapse in Venezuela's economy and society, we reported that as part of Maduro's latest set of emergency decrees as part of which he ordered a 60-day state of emergency due to what he called plots from Venezuela and the United States to subvert him, we also previewed something more troubling: "he hinted that a violent crackdown on enemies, both foreign and domestic, may be imminent when he ordered military exercises for next weekend."
As it turns out it won't be just any exercises, but as Bloomberg writes, "Venezuela is preparing for the biggest military exercises in its history this Saturday after the South American country’s government said it’s on high alert as the opposition pushes for a recall referendum on President Nicolas Maduro."
Venezuela's national guard
"Venezuela is threatened," Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said on state television Thursday. "This is the first time we are carrying out an exercise of this nature in the country. In terms of national reach, it’s going to be in every strategic region." When Maduro announced the exercises last weekend in a rambling press conference on Tuesday, he said U.S. spy planes including an Boeing 707 E-3 Sentry had entered the country’s airspace illegally this month.
Just two corrections to Mr. Lopez' statement: it is not Venezuela that is threatened, it is Maduro's regime, and the source of the threat is not external, it is the people themselves who have had it with the country's devastated economy.
With this military deployment, which is nothing less than a dramatic show of force by the soon to be overthrown Maduro, the most likley outcome is a crackdown by the president on either the opposition or protesters, or both; the only question is whether the army will follow the inevitable order to turn against its own people. A recent interview with a member of the Bolivarian National Guard did not provide much clarity on this most important issue.
Opposition governor Henrique Capriles said a “moment of truth” had arrived for the country’s Armed Forces Tuesday, a day before security forces used tear gas to turn back anti-government protesters in central Caracas. The opposition has pledged further demonstrations across the country to pressure the electoral board, or CNE, to process a petition to activate a recall referendum. They accuse the government of stalling the process to avoid early elections.
We expect demonstrations to resume tomorrow, and to turn violent once the massive military deployment meets with thousands of protesters in the streets.
To some the military's show of force is just that, a distraction which buys the failing regime a few more days or weeks of time: "The government is looking to victimize itself to both the international community and its own followers,” Rocio San Miguel, director of Caracas-based, non-profit security researcher Citizens’ Control, said in an interview. “They’re looking for a distraction to buy time, and there’s no better distraction than the military one.”
Others, such as PanAmPost's Sabrina Martin, disagree.
She notes that the Venezuelan opposition announced on Wednesday, May 18 that it is marching to the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE) to force the electoral body to ensure the recall referendum process continues against Maduro. In response, some cities around the country have been militarized.
Caracas decided to close at least 14 subway stations to prevent the mobilization of citizens while hundreds of police and soldiers closed entrances to Plaza Venezuela, the gathering place for the march.
People on Twitter reported strong traffic congestion on the main avenues of the city. Motorized National Police were also on patrol, and there were several military tanks stationed on corners. Similarly, all access to the Central University of Venezuela was blocked with a strong National Guard presence.
Guarenas, the scene of looting and large protests earlier in the week, also woke up to a military and police presence on the streets. CNE headquarters were surrounded by security officials in western Tachira. On Twitter, Venezuelans complained that Valle de la Pascua in the country’s central region was also militarized, just as Maturin was in the east. Martin adds that the governor of Miranda and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles announced, however, that marches toward the offices of the Electoral Council will still happen.
The clip below shows the clashes that took place in Caracas on Thursday in a bit to up the pressure for a recall referendum against Maduro.
Meanwhile, Maduro pled ignorance: during a press conference, President Maduro mocked the international media for questioning cities under military control. “What militarization?” He asked. "Show me."
Tomorrow it is likely that the whole world will see, because when a autocratic regime takes away everything from its people including hope, the only outcome is a change in government, achieved either by peaceful means or otherwise.
For those who need a reminder of just how much Maduro's socialist paradise has taken away from the people it is supposed to represent, here is a stark reminder:
- Inflation in Venezuela is predicted to reach 700 percent within the year, which would be the world’s highest.
- According to the Confederation of Venezuela Industry, in the Chavista era, approximately 8,000 businesses have closed.
- More than 70 percent of Venezuelans believe President Nicolás Maduro should step down.
- There were 2,138 protests and more than 170 lootings between January and April this year, according to the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict. That’s about 18 per day.
- Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world. There were 28,000 in 2015. That’s 76 violent deaths per day and three per hour.
- According to an Encovi survey, 87 percent of Venezuelans can’t afford to buy food.
- According to the National Federation of Farmers, 2015 saw Venezuelans reduce their meat consumption by 42 percent compared to 2012 — the largest drop in 55 years.
- Ninety percent of citizens said they buy less food due to scarcity.
- According to polling group Datanalisis, there are shortages of basic food in 80 percent of supermarkets and 40 percent of homes.
- While Latin America’s infant malnutrition rate hovers around 5 percent, the Bengoa Foundation found that it was near 9 percent in Venezuela as of 2015.
- Public medical systems have reported that 44 percent of operating rooms are non-functional, and 94 percent of labs do not have sufficient supplies.
The Venezuelan people have no medicine, electricity, food, water or hope. What they do have, and plenty of it, is street crime, homicide and desperation. And, whether faced with a militarized army or not, they will soon have a revolution, because when yet another country is destroyed by a regime that chooses to only look after itself, that is the only possible outcome.
Meanwhile, here is a preview of what one may expect tomorrow.