What's the end game in Venezuela?

Over the weekend we looked at the deteriorating situation in Venezuela where the regime of Nicola Maduro (can we just call it a dictatorship at this point?) is in a running battle with protesters. People are now literally dying the streets fighting against government forces, while others simply die of starvation. There is certainly a sense in the air that something even worse is coming before things get better, assuming they ever do. But where is all of this heading? Over at The Daily Beast there is an editorial from Raul Stolk which examines this question and offers various possible end-game scenarios, none of them particularly rosy. Stolk is a Venezuelan ex-pat living in Miami and he’s been writing about this crisis for some time now.

So what are the options on the table currently? One is the rather far fetched hope that new elections can be scheduled, not only regionally, but to replace Maduro through some sort of democratic process. Alternately, he could resign under pressure from the masses. But Stolk points out that both of these are not only unlikely, given the iron grip Maduro has on the nation, but constitutionally problematic. Even if the president could be peacefully evicted from the palace, under the normal rules of order he would be immediately replaced by the Vice President, and that could potentially be even worse.

If Maduro were to resign, or be removed by referendum, or even by trial, the vice president would be first in line to finish his constitutional term. The current Venezuelan veep is a man called Tareck El Aissami, who was recently listed under the drug kingpin act of the United States. For many Venezuelans, it would be tragic to get rid of Maduro and get stuck with El Aissami. He has been ruthless repressing opposition protests in the past, and whether true or not, his reputation has not been helped by rumoured connections to international terrorism.

So that path looks rather dismal at best. One of the more violent and worrisome prospects is the military pulling off a successful coup and deposing both Maduro and his vice president themselves. But then who is in charge? As Stolk notes, world history – particularly in South America – is full of horror stories about the aftermath of such coups and the rise of military strongmen in their wake. The results rarely wind up being some sort of free and democratic society which benefits the rank and file citizens.

Others seem to hope that the military might have a change of heart and force the government out and help re-establish constitutional order through a not-so-constitutional coup d’état.

Of course, this would be the fastest route to the end of Maduro and chavismo. But considering how things have gone with military adventurers and politics in the past, and considering that the military is a big part of the present problem, this seems a less desirable option.

That leaves us with three equally horrible options to my way of thinking. The first would be to simply leave the status quo in place and see if Maduro can right the ship on his own and at least begin regularly feeding his people again. This sounds dubious at best and those who have been leading any protests or pushing for more legislative power from the opposition side will likely soon wind up in dungeons. The second, even more far fetched possibility is foreign military intervention to overthrow the government and set up some sort of transitional administration. Anybody want to sign up for that duty? I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting.

And that leaves perhaps the ugliest option. A revolution coming from the streets where the citizens somehow manage to overcome the well armed government forces and essentially hang Maduro from a meat hook on the streets of Caracas like a modern day il Duce. The death toll to the rebels would be horrendous and even if they succeeded… what then? There are multiple opposition groups representing very different factions and ideologies out there. Would internal warfare immediately follow until some sort of 21st century Robespierre arose from the blood soaked ashes and instituted a new Reign of Terror? If history teaches us anything, that possibility can’t be discounted and is likely more of a probability at this point.

This would normally be the portion of the essay where I raise my hand, point out how all of these proposals have shortcomings and offer a better solution of my own. No such luck here, sports fans. I don’t have a clue how to fix this. As far as I can tell, the people of Venezuela are pretty much out of luck and nearly out of time. You can offer them your prayers, but not much more than that at this point. We are once again watching how socialism ends, and it never, ever, ever ends well.

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