EspañolCatholic University Andrés Bello’s Center for Political Studies is one of the most valuable sources of information about the political landscape in Venezuela. Daniel Fermín, a political scientist who works with the center, is one of the most balanced and well-informed sources there.
Fermin, currently on special assignment in Germany, has published a series of tweets announcing the virtual end of President Nicolás Maduro’s administration. PanAm Post talked with him about Venezuela as seen from a distance, as well as about about today’s demonstration.
Your tweet practically announces the end of Maduro’s administration. You are usually quite prudent, so where did such a statement come from?
Chavismo, particularly in the current regime, has gone from a competitive authoritarianism with strong populist themes to … a regime of hegemonic authoritarianism, which does not allow for competition or fair elections.
We have seen this clearly with the cancellation of the recall referendum, with the regional elections that are scheduled but aren’t happening, and with no call for municipal elections from the National Electoral Council. It is clear that the government no longer wants elections. When there were elections, it was clear that it was because their main support was the people, it was popular support.
Today, the pillars of the regime are in the National Armed Forces. The Armed Forces that violate Article 328 of the constitution declare themselves Chavez supporters, they’re on the government’s side, etcetera. The institution that is co-opted by the executive branch, especially by the CNE, is now, more than anything, the Supreme Court of Justice.
Is this type of authoritarianism sustainable in Venezuela?
The weak spot in these types of regimes is that they depend on the absolute loyalty of their followers. They have no propensity for long-term stability, especially when there are people on the street actively resisting them.
Notice how the gaps between political leadership and citizen aspirations are closing. There is a greater unity, and not just within the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
So, these types of regimes do not remain stable when they are going against people’s organized resistance. If not, people become passive. It happens, we have seen it in other countries, like Cuba. But in Venezuela, the government has encountered not only its traditional opposition over the past 18 years, composed of people who never voted for them, but also deep inside Chavismo there is great discontent and there is a very strong opposition to what is happening today.
Last week we saw protests in areas with traditionally strong support for Chavez. Is Maduro worried that political protest will compound with the hunger protest?
Their worst fear is that social protests will start to be articulated politically. For example, when we see analysis carried out by the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, their latest numbers show 19 daily protests. Most of these protests are in response to the collapse of public services. There is no water, there is no electricity, there’s scarcity, there’s no food or medicine. When these protests are not politically charged, of course, they have social purpose but have no political relevance.
When these protests are politically-motivated and begin to have political intentions – the government has used the term “politizar” as a synonym for “partisanship” — and as something that distorts social protests. When social protests have political leadership, I think it is something that these types of regimes should fear a lot. Because when people say “look, there is a shortage, but I don’t want the CLAP food service, I want the government to leave because shortages are their fault and I want to have elections for a political change,” then the regime should be afraid because it no longer allows for half-measures, or handouts, but rather a political change that allows decision-making to lead to another way of governing.
Many people consider April 19 as a sort of “final battle,” or Maduro’s “last day.” But that’s not going to be the case. How should people deal with those expectations?
On April 19, we must have very clear and specific objectives for the protest. I am worried about the threat of violence, not only threats made by the government to intimidate, but this epic nature of the “final battle” is concerning because it can undo the progress made so far.
I believe that Venezuela’s political leaders have the great responsibility of doing this properly, and to leave a message of strength, a testimony for Venezuelans and for those abroad, that expresses Venezuelans’ determination to live in freedom and to have a dignified life, but without resorting to violence, because that falls into the government’s plan.
Speaking of violence, on Monday, Maduro sent a militia up against protestors. What message does that send to the country and the world?
The government is betting that in the face of the irreversible erosion of its party’s popularity, PSUV, paramilitaries and the Armed Forces will become the new government party. And we have to add a few quotation marks to that “new” because the Armed Forces have long been members of the ruling party. Faced with the loss of the electoral system, the government is trying to create a militarized platform that not only spreads fear among the population but also achieves social control through the militarization of society.
One hundred and eighty days have gone by since the president of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, spoke about an electoral timetable with regional elections in the first half of the year. It is less than a month and a half before the deadline, so it is clear that she will not honor her word?
The CNE lost its relevance once the government decided that it does not want to be evaluated electorally. It’s Orwellian behavior. Instead of making choices, its function is to prevent elections. Dr. Lucena performs poorly for her institution and has become a mockery to Venezuelans.
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Unfortunately, the CNE has been taken over by the executive branch and that is by no means proper behavior for anyone who calls themselves a democrat.
Have Nicolas Maduro and his group crossed the line? Will they go to prison in the future?
That is a very difficult question to answer, not only because one does not know what will happen, but because in these procedures, there is much of what is known as transitional justice. … Impunity is always negotiated, which may sound terrible for common citizens, because the longing for justice is there and people really want those who have committed crimes to pay for those crimes.