A country engulfed in a economic crisis, a president’s popularity dropping like a stone, ineffective social policies, an opposition regaining strength, now once again a legion of youngsters take to the streets to protest in spite of dictatorial repression. If we added all these elements, we could assume that a regime change is imminent. However, these are only several factors in the equation of what is now the present Venezuelan state.
The worsening of the Venezuelan crisis has demonstrated, especially during the last six months, that the top echelon of Chavista power still stands united and continues to have a clear goal: keep power at all cost. Meanwhile the allies of president Nicolas Maduro have a set of solid allies in the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) and The National Armed Forces. And, even though foreign exchange income has dropped dramatically, due to petrodollars, the government and its business allies still have uncontested control over the Venezuelan state’s economy.
For these reasons of collusion and corruption, until there is a significant break within the top echelon of Chavismo, there will not be political change in Venezuela. And such a break will never occur under the current corrupted semi-democratic system. The Maduro government has consistently crossed red lines numerous times, whether indefinitely suspending elections, briefly stripping the national assembly of power, cracking down protestors or vocally arming pro-government civilian groups. These are a series of extreme steps that Maduro’s patron—Hugo Chávez—never did.
Venezuela under Chávez or under chavistas is a clear example of how a group can use the rules of the democratic game to take power, and little by little undermine and shape them, within a minimum democratic framework until they have the people’s support. But they differ in their brazenness and tactics. Generally speaking chavistas have shown a willful disregard for the rules of the democratic game that allowed them to take office. But there are differences are in subtlety.
The Venezuelan dictatorship is a mixture of repressive forces lead by police and military officers, institutional control of the judicial system, and censorship that produces a kind of television blackout to keep most Venezuelans in the dark.
The March Supreme Court’s (TSJ) decision to seize the National Assembly’s functions triggered a new wave of street demonstrations this April. Suddenly the opposition and the international community had a new rallying point, after the TSJ had taken dozens of decisions to undermine the National Assembly’s functions or derogate laws. The transgression was real, immediate, identifiable. The Supreme Court simply assumed the congress’ powers, ignoring the voters’ will of an opposition-controlled unicameral parliament.
The moves were both a denouement of past chavista policies and a sign of things to come.
But this time they showed a long-anticipated split from within chavismo.
In response to the TSJ overreach, the Venezuela General Attorney Luisa Ortega Díaz, who had served in line with the regime, broke with her partisans and denounced the rupture of the constitutional order in Venezuela.
It is too early to predict the consequences what the break with chavismo will mean. But it goes beyond just a business-as-usual political break. The shift may be a signal of what could be replicated, maybe in an increased intensity, in other institutional fields.
For example, repression against peaceful protests is an issue that divides the National Armed Forces; some high-ranking military officers have confirmed this to me in private. These ideological divisions are not in the public domain yet, for now, but whether protests remain for a while and the official reaction continues to be people’s repression, it could be the substratum of a breaking point for Venezuela’s regime.
Venezuelan opposition has breathed fresh air around the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) with a group of young lawmakers fighting in the street—maybe they should bet to one of the classical Marxism postulates. It is time to expose contradictions within chavismo. It is from that split that change will likely come.