Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power

2 months ago DieselGasoil Comments Off on Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power

The Venezuelan opposition are calling for two days of action on the streets starting with rallies outside military bases on Saturday.

The attempted coup this week that started with an early morning call to the security services to join the people in a mass uprising, by the opposition leader Juan Guaido, spectacularly came to nothing.

We joined the protesters on a May Day show of defiance.

But the numbers were small in comparison to what we have witnessed in recent months, and there was a sense of depressed resignation that the opposition leaders had gone too early, promising a final breakthrough, but were once again unable to deliver.

The point is that on more than one occasion the government of Nicolas Maduro has been reeling on the ropes like a battered boxer, but the opposition simply haven’t been able to deliver a knockout punch. Each time this happens Mr Maduro recovers and gets stronger.

Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido (C) called for peaceful demonstrations at army bases on Friday

Juan Guaido, a young, previously anonymous, political figure, declared himself interim president on 23 January, using a relatively obscure legal argument that as speaker of the National Assembly he could assume power in the vacuum created by the failure of elections to find a new legitimate president.

Mr Maduro didn’t see this coming – in fact I am told his military and political advisers, many from Cuba and Russia, were completely blindsided.

More from Juan Guaido

There was free-fall in the presidential palace, strategic thinking collapsed.

The government was reeling again as hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital Caracas, and other cities across the country, when Mr Guaido made his announcement and was almost immediately endorsed by the president of the United States.

As the international community gradually joined with their own endorsements, Mr Maduro was in serious trouble.

Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro appeared at a May Day rally of his supporters in Caracas

In stepped China, Turkey and most importantly, Russia.

The streets belonged to Mr Guaido, but the power remained with the president.

Russia applied its standard dictator survival plan – hunker down, tough it out, scare the living daylights out of the opposition however possible and however violently needed.

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Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power

Luis Alejandro was protesting against Nicolas Maduro in Caracas when he was struck by an armoured vehicle

Mr Maduro got stronger over the following weeks.

Fast-forward a bit and the US started attacking the regime’s economy and individual government members with sanctions and legal action. This, combined with a nationwide power blackout and a complete loss of water supplies, left the president teetering once again.

But still the opposition achieved nothing. It’s quite likely that most people started concentrating on survival rather than regime change.

Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power
President Maduro has maintained the support of his military in testing times

Mr Maduro got stronger again.

Then the attempted coup.

I’m told that it was brought forward by a day because the regime got word that something was up and were about to imprison key opposition figures, in particular Leopold Lopez, the political mentor of Mr Guaido, who was under house arrest but continued to oversee the uprising from home.

Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power
A journalist hit by a blast bomb thrown by security forces is helped to safety by colleagues

He and Mr Guaido appeared in the early morning surrounded by heavily-armed national guards at a military base in Caracas, to make their appeal to the security services and the people.

The thing is, they weren’t actually inside the base, they were in the car park, and there were not even a couple of dozen guards.

They had been negotiating with senior government and military players for weeks, I am reliably informed, but they went too early and the support evaporated.

Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power
Opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez speaks to the media at the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas

Mr Lopez legged it to the Spanish embassy, Mr Guaido is effectively on the run and the national guards who stood by them are apparently now camping in the Brazilian embassy compound.

Guess what, Mr Maduro has got stronger again.

When you are on the rise and your opposition has shown weakness, really the best plan is to smash them.

The president and his forces are doing that right now.

They dispel crowds with blast bombs and tear gas, and when they really want to make the point that demonstrating is a bad thing to do, they use live rounds and kill people.

Our Venezuelan producer stayed working on the streets when we left to send our report on Wednesday.

Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power
Betzabeth Rausseo, 27, died in hospital after being shot in the throat by security forces in Caracas at the end of a day of protest

He witnessed 27-year-old Betzabeth Rausseo being shot in the throat by the security forces at the end of a day of protest.

Her husband and some passersby propped her up on a motorbike and took her to the nearest hospital where she died.

Strong-arm tactics and foreign backing keep Maduro in power
Betzabeth Rausseo was rushed to hospital on a motorbike after being shot

The family insist she wasn’t a protester, she was just on the street. To the regime that detail is irrelevant. Her death sends a very clear message: It could be you.

I can’t see Mr Maduro surviving this. But that does not mean he will fall from street protests. A more likely option is that he is removed by his own people to save themselves.

But the street protests will go on and more people will die and Venezuela will take a generation to recover when the nightmare finally ends.