He can even send his lieutenant, former president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, to campaign in his favor across the country. Maduro, however, can’t ignore the two severe political blows he suffered this week.
The first came in the form of the massive citizen demonstrations held in every Venezuelan state on Wednesday, October 26. The opposition, which protested against the regime’s decision not to allow a referendum to revoke Maduro’s mandate, labeled its marches the “Occupation of Venezuela;” the regime’s only response was violence, both institutional and paramilitary.
No less devastating for Maduro’s dictatorship was the “civil strike” organized on Friday, October 28. Despite government threats, the opposition managed to shut down almost all industry and commerce.
On a weekday, which also happened to be a payday in most companies, city streets across the country were as empty as on any Sunday. The opposition’s victories suddenly changed the political scenario in Venezuela.
- Read More: Empty Venezuelan Streets Send Powerful Message to Maduro as Businesses Go on Strike
- Read More: Venezuelan Opposition Announces Historic March against Maduro
It is obvious that the opposition represents a majority of citizens even if Chavista officials still try to portray Venezuelan politics as a struggle between “the people” and the overwhelmingly anti-Manduro middle classes (“the bourgeoisie.”)
But this week also proved that a majority of Venezuelans, which obviously includes a large number of the poor, are willing to follow the leadership of the anti-Chavista coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which is recognized as the country’s legitimate political force. This poses new problems for dictator Maduro, as if he needed any more on his plate.
Next week, Maduro faces a political trial in the National Assembly although the Chavista-controlled Supreme Court has stated that the assembly’s decisions are invalid. The opposition will also hold a march whose destination is the presidential palace in the Caracas neighborhood of Miraflores.
If the regime tries to interfere, there could be large-scale violence. Neither side seems overly keen on avoiding bloodshed at all costs. This, however, would only heighten the current crisis since the massive food shortages and astronomic levels of inflation persist with no end in sight.
We are very close to reaching a breaking point. I might be mistaken, and I risk leaving my error behind on the internet like a misspelled phrase on a tattoo. But the following are the possible scenarios awaiting Venezuela, the order of the list having no relation to the actual possibility of the event taking place.
1) The Dictatorship Can Impose Its Will on the Opposition
It is possible that the citizen movement against Maduro will lose strength and dissipate, whether spontaneously or due to armed repression from the Chavista regime’s paramilitary thugs (the so-called colectivos). This would leave the opposition, despite being a majority, discouraged and even depressed. In that case, the regime could use the opportunity to “fall forward” by dissolving the National Assembly or declaring the MUD illegal. Or it could do both.
The international scene has become very hostile to the Maduro regime, but it has little real sway in Venezuela. The world would become accustomed to a dictatorship in the country. If the opposition is simply smashed, however, it would become impossible for the regime to counter the claim that a totalitarian state has been imposed upon Venezuela.
2) The Regime Tries to Smash the Opposition, but Fails
Even if the march to be held on October 3 unleashes waves of violence on the streets, the opposition might remain undaunted and organize another march and then another. The international community will become alarmed and might push for a negotiated solution with all its might. It might also help the opposition to take power unopposed. A military officer might even hold a classic coup d’état and send Venezuela’s democracy on permanent holiday.
Any of these possibilities would usher in a prolonged period of instability. Consequences are unpredictable since there are 12 million illegal weapons on the streets due to 17 years of Chavista misrule. Venezuela might not become Syria or Libya, but it could descend into a civil war in some way similar to the conflicts in those countries. This would have consequences beyond Venezuela; the entire region would be under threat due to Venezuela’s current economic meltdown.
3) The Opposition Obtains a Clear Victory
Due to the international community’s involvement, betrayals in the Chavista ranks, undeniable accusations of corruption, military disobedience, or massive popular pressure, Maduro might follow the example of Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori and leave the country. Also, high-ranking officers could force him out as happened in Honduras in 2009, when then President Manuel Zelaya was put on a plane and dropped off in Costa Rica.
This would also lead to instability, although less severe than in option 2. There is a growing perception in the country that Maduro is not the problem, but rather the regime itself. Venezuela is a failed state and there is no possible solution involving the Chavistas who ruined the nation.
4) The Government and the Opposition Are Playing Chicken and One of the Two Will Yield
As the opposition marches on the presidential palace in Miraflores, will the Chavistas try to block their path to Maduro’s official residence, forcing their opponents to reach another destination at the last minute? Or will the government yield and allow the referendum to revoke Maduro to take place? Will it allow the early general elections for which the opposition has asked?
Historically, the Chavistas have never yielded an inch of their power. When they avoid a collision, they only postpone it. On the other hand, the opposition has sold its “March on Miraflores” as a magical solution to all problems. But what happens if it brings no concrete results? We would have to go back to scenario 1.
5) The International Community Forces Both Parts to Strike a Deal
Despite the regime’s democratic defficit, the lack of checks and balances to restrain the executive power, the political prisoners, and the diminished individual liberty, the international community is hesitant to call Maduro a dictator. Foreign heads of state insist that a dialogue with the opposition should take place. Today, in Cartagena, Colombia, regional leaders are putting pressure on Maduro to do just that.
This, however, is the least popular alternative in Venezuela even if people tell pollsters that they want a dialogue. Historically, the Chavistas have used negotiations in order to buy time. The opposition, on the other hand, will only negotiate if elections are called, while the government has no intention to measure its true support at polling stations across the country.
The only real option is for the international community to force Maduro to hold the recall referendum which has been suspended. This might not be as improbable as it might seem at first sight. In return, the National Assembly might recognize Maduro’s legitimacy. Tensions would be soothed. Nonetheless, the more radical Chavistas would view any negotiation as an act of treason, and Maduro’s dwindling support has meant that he is backed mainly by radicals.
These are the possible scenarios at hand now that the opposition is aware of its strength and the Chavistas are against the wall. Then again, the Maduro regime holds the instruments of power, including the entirety of the armed forces, and politics is a dynamic business. Tomorrow might be another day in Venezuela. Or perhaps not.