The Opposition to Chavismo Hasn’t Understood that Venezuela Is in a Civil War

Venezuela’s pacifist, legalist opposition still hasn’t recognized the totalitarian nature of the Chavista regime. (Interprete)

It hurts to admit it, but Venezuela is experiencing a strange kind of civil war the outcome of which may not favor those who fight for freedom. This is a struggle without room for compromise, in which both sides are ready to fight until the bitter end.

What makes it unusual, however, is that one side is armed to the teeth, with an enormous army and a remorseless police force that is willing to do anything to stay in power. The other side is fractured, unarmed, and without leaders who grasp the gravity of the situation.

A significant portion of those who do not wish to live under the misery of a 21st century dictatorship are committed to fight until the end. These are the young Venezuelan protesters whom some call “the resistance”, thousands of young men and women who resist oppression with valor and courage because they know that under the current regime they have no future.

On the other hand, the political opposition to Maduro is led by pacifists and legalists. This is positive, in a way, because violence clearly brings disastrous consequences, and because the respect for the rule of law strengthens a republic’s institutions. However, for anyone who knows the true nature of the Venezuelan regime, the strategy of pacifism and legalism is a path that will only lead to failure.

This has been demonstrated time after time. The dictatorship has slowly gathered strength in the nearly two decades that have passed since the ill-fated election in which Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez reached power.

From 2002 to 2004, I took part in some of the efforts through which the inept
opposition tried to free Venezuela of chavismo at the time. There are two things that I
remember very clearly, two weaknesses which even now, over a decade later, are
still present in the memory of many opposition leaders: their reluctance to distance themselves ideologically from socialism, and their obstinate resistance to understanding the nature of the enemy before them.

It must be noted that the opposition never really criticized Chávez’s establishment of foreign exchange controls, a weapon through which his regime took over the country’s economy. Nor did opposition leaders question the way in which oil profits were spent on populist and politicized social programs. There were complaints and accusations, but a proposal for a coherent and viable alternative never arose.

As far as strategies for putting an end to the chavista regime, the opposition’s pacifists resorted to
historic examples that were not in the least bit similar to the situation in Venezuela then
and now. It is true that Mahatma Gandhi’s pacifist struggle had positive results although they were achieved in 25 years, and with a British Empire drastically weakened after the Second World War. But Britain was not a totalitarian or socialist state. It was a liberal democracy that maturely accepted the fact that it could not afford to keep a colony such as India at the time.

The same could be said about the long struggle in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela, whose party, the African National Congress, never renounced violence but did resort to it on countless occasions.

What the leaders of the Venezuelan opposition didn’t grasp and still don´t understand is that the Venezuelan regime is very similar to communist dictatorships such as the one in Cuba, the Soviet Union, or Maoist China. Pacifist demonstrations and protests have little if any effect on these kinds of regimes. The first instinct of totalitarian governments is to repress insurrections brutally. They have no respect for the law or for institutions, changing the rules of the game at their convenience. They are willing to remain in power by any means necessary.

Only the youth of the resistance, those who are now risking their lives and their freedom
in a desperate struggle, have understood what kind of enemies they face. They rely on their wits alone, stretching them to extremes in the most unequal of fights, and they have the implicit or explicit support of a substantial majority of Venezuelans.

Not all opposition political parties support the resistance, however. Some of their leaders are shameless enough to criticize them, as if they themselves had anything more to offer than to continue their futile attempts to fight a brutal dictatorship through legal means.

We know very well that the future is open to many possibilities, and nobody can predict what will take place. What is certain is that civil wars can be won or lost. Given the current circumstances, I believe it is a mistake to get carried away by an exaggerated optimism. The Maduro regime will not fall under its own weight, and the Venezuelan tyrants will not give up power unless they are defeated in a fight which, unfortunately, could turn out to be very long, bloody, and devastating.


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