With repression and evasive actions, Maduro’s dictatorship continues in Venezuela
Since our last post about the Venezuelan crisis, things have evolved rather quickly. An eventful breaking point was the humanitarian aid standoff on February 23. International donors, among them the United States and Canada, sent aid to help around 300,000 Venezuelans that are in need of food and medical care. The humanitarian aid was supposed to enter Venezuelan territory through the borders with Colombia and Brazil, as well as from the Dutch island of Curaçao. This was to be accompanied by a musical show with some Latin American stars. The show did take place, but the international aid did not enter Venezuelan territory, though it did produce other effects when Nicolás Maduro’s repression forces started to act.
The Maduro’s dictatorial regime replied to these actions mobilizing security forces along the land frontiers with Brazil and Colombia and restricting navigation between Curaçao and Venezuela. The trucks with humanitarian aid deployed from Colombia arrived at the international bridge Francisco de Paula Santander, connecting with the Venezuelan town of Ureña. As the trucks tried to enter into Venezuelan territory, clashes between the security forces and protesters took place. As this went on, two of the three trucks started to burn(video) The fire consumed almost all of the aid, though there were efforts to save some boxes by the volunteers. However, the use of tear gas by the regime’s forces ended this objective. There were two persons dead in Brazil when the forces attacked native people protesting at the border. There were other 2 dead and hundreds of injured. Among the repression forces, the so-called “colectivos” are some of the most feared among the Venezuelans. They are paramilitary factions that support Maduro’s regime, practicing terror and intimidation Nazi-style, like marking the houses of individuals and families that do not agree with the dictatorship.
In this confusion, some Venezuelan members of the Police and the Armed Forces decided to cross the border trying to escape from the regime. Some did it walking by beaten paths, but some crossed over the bridge, using a Police armored vehicle, hurting bystanders. Defectors are sometimes being shot at by the security forces. The migration office in Colombia (Migración Colombia) has been receiving and registering these soldiers and policemen, counting almost 600 women and men in uniform that have fled the Maduro’s dictatorship. They abandon their posts looking for a better life and because they do not agree with the orders to repress the people. The Defense Minister of Venezuela replied to this by expelling 100 guards from the Forces, labeling them ‘traitors’ and saying that those who stay are the true patriots that will defend Venezuela.
At the same time, there is the risk that Maduro’s agents have infiltrated Colombia to gather information. Some Venezuelan soldiers that arrived in Colombia warned about this possibility. A Venezuelan woman was expelled by the migration office after realizing what her true motives for entering the country were, namely, to extract information about the migration and registration process. Information that certainly would have served Maduro’s regime to repress the families of the deserters.
As a response to these events, there were two international meetings. On February 25, the Lima Group, a conference of Latin American nations (Argentina, Brasil, Canadá, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Panamá, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela),met at Bogotá, including Venezuela for the first time, led by President Juan Guaidó. At the end of the conference, the Group’s statement asked for the restoration of democracy with peaceful means, increasing diplomatic pressure against Maduro’s dictatorship and repression. It also asked for cooperation from the Interamerican Development Bank to support a plan to restore the Venezuelan economy. At the same time, it suggested the International Criminal Court to take into account that not allowing the entry of humanitarian aid could be a crime against humanity.
After his visit to Bogotá, Guaidó traveled to Brazil, Paraguay and Ecuador, being received by their respective heads of state. He is planning to return to Venezuela, but Maduro claimed that he will have to face justice on account of leaving the country against an order not to. At the same time, Diosdado Cabello, the second most powerful man in Venezuela and head of the Constituent National Assembly (a collective body picked up to compete with the National Assembly led by the opposition), warned that Guaidó will be received by a reception committee.
On February 26, at the Security Council of the United Nations, several members expressed the need for the reestablishment of democracy in Venezuela, pointing out also to the severe humanitarian and economic crisis and repression,Germany being among those most vocal in this regard. There were also members that supported the Maduro’s regime, like Cuba.
The US tried to pass a resolution that called for presidential elections in Venezuela and the deployment of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. 9 members of the Security Council voted in favor, but Russia and China vetoed it. Instead, Russia tried to pass a different resolution, that also failed, indicating a concern about the possibility of US interference in Venezuela’s sovereignty, as well that in any case Maduro should decide whether there is any need for aid. 4 members voted in favor, 7 opposed and 4 abstained. Next day, at a meeting of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, around 60 ambassadors of the European Union and other countries left the room when Jorge Arreaza, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Maduro, started his turn to speak (video).
The US, however, has been very clear in its official line. Contrary to the Lima Group, military action has not been discarded, said Mauricio Claver Carone, US advisor for National Security in the Western Hemisphere. He also said that they are constantly in communication with key actors of Venezuelan politics, including the military. Moreover, he affirmed that the sanctions have now started to produce effects. For example, oil production has stalled and accumulated, for lack of buyers. Russia and China are in credit risk, that can only be overcome if there is good governance, so they should be interested in a change in the Venezuelan Government, said Claver Carone.
The US announced new sanctions directed at the officers in charge of the repression on February 23, responsible also for not allowing the entry of humanitarian aid. The forces whose officers are now under sanctions are the National Bolivarian Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana), the Special Action Forces (FAES, Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales) and the National Bolivarian Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana).
Maduro’s Evasive Actions
Maduro has tried to reply to these sanctions. Most recently, he decided to move state oil firm PDVSA’s office in Europe from Lisbon to Moscow, as announced by the Vice President Delcy Rodríguez during a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister for Russia Sergey Lavrov. This was in order to protect Venezuela’s assets against actions like those of the Bank of England, that blocked the Maduro’s dictatorship access to Venezuela’s gold. Russia has expressed its commitment in helping solve humanitarian needs for its partner. However, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, said that Russia expects that the crisis can be overcome, in order for the projects and investments to have a good probability of success.
At the same time, in middle February,Maduro sold Venezuelan gold in order to counter the fall in production and selling of oil, and thus generate income. A practice that started in 2018, with gold shipments to Turkey, and that has left the reserves in the Venezuelan Central Bank with just 140 tons, the lowest in 75 years according to Reuters. There is also an agreement between Venezuela and Turkey. Turkey will receive and refine the gold, and will also provide food for the national program of food distribution in Venezuela (CLAP), a system that awards allegiance and punishes disobedience: those who are discontent do not participate in the program. The gold that reaches the reserves of the Venezuelan Central Bank passes through a complicated process, involving illegal mining in the worst of conditions, and the Government buying this gold with the devalued Bolívar.
During that same week, on February 25, journalist Jorge Ramos and his team from Univision tried to interview Nicolás Maduro (video). At around 15 minutes of the interview, Jorge Ramos showed Maduro a video of young men walking after a trash truck, picking up food and eating it. Immediately, Jorge Rodríguez, Minister of Communication, stopped the interview, and officers confiscated the cameras and cellphones and started to abuse the Univision team, leading up to the point of introducing them into a dark room.
Luckily, a journalist was able to make a call, and her colleagues at the Univision office gave warning about what was happening, forcing the regime to let them free, deporting them the next day. This, against the advice of some officers that wanted to keep them longer. According to a journalist that suffered this abuse, some of the closest to Maduro were Cuban, distinguishing them because of their accents (video). “Totally Cuban accent. The Maduro’s circle is Cuban. They are Cuban”. This attests to the alliance and cooperation between the Cuban intelligence apparatus G2 and the Venezuelan Bolivarian National Service of Intelligence (Servicio Nacional Bolivariano de Inteligencia, SEBIN), as reported several times. This cooperation has allowed Maduro’s dictatorship to implement repression and persecution at a very deep and wide scale.