Political guru Michael Rowan
By Michael Rowan
Here are the strengths and weaknesses of Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido, both of whom claim to be the president of Venezuela.
STRENGTHS OF MADURO
The Military Commanders. They number over 500 individuals with rank of general, which is many times the number of top commanders the largest military forces on earth require, but Maduro’s military have a lot to do: they run ministries, the oil business, food distribution, ports, and cocaine trafficking.
The estimated $300 billion missing from Venezuela’s oil books over the last 20 years has probably been funneled through the Commanders some of whom are among the wealthiest individuals on the continent. Military skills may be low grade but military profits go through the roof. The question is, where are the loyalties of hundreds of thousands of rank and file soldiers?
Control of the state. Maduro controls the state totally. Fidel taught Chavez well. Maduro is not as skilled as Chavez at keeping his base in the barrios fooled about the revolution. Nevertheless, government bureaucrats are being paid to be loyal.
Cuba. Through an estimated 50,000 agents, Cuba controls the security apparatus of Venezuela and it receives a $3 billion annual subsidy from Venezuela in payment. The Cubans are brutally efficient and very motivated to keep the money flowing.
Russia. Putin sold $11 billion of arms to Venezuela which have been used brutally to control the population. And Putin has bailed out Maduro with $10 billion, gaining a strategic ownership piece of PDVSA. And best of all from Putin’s politics, he is using Venezuela’s de facto dictatorship as a wedge against the U.S. in Latin America to distract Washington from concerns about Putin’s incursions in Crimea and Ukraine.
China. With loans of $60 billion to purchase in advance PDVSA oil at bargain prices, China is effectively the prime owner of Venezuela from an economic perspective. China couldn’t care less about Maduro and only wants oil and rare mineral security from Venezuela. It can go either way – with the winner.
UN Security Council. Both Russia and China will veto any UN resolution about Venezuela that hurts their interests and helps US interests.
Mexico. The new president is a socialist who may have thoughts of solidarity with Chavez if not Maduro, but the prime reason he’s supporting Maduro over Guaido is because of the wall Trump wants to build between Mexico and the US. Trump is supporting Guaido. Enough said.
World indifference. Tyrants in Latin America know that the US really doesn’t care enough to do anything about Venezuela; Canada doesn’t have enough power to make a difference; and the world is busy on other stuff. Maduro can probably get away with murder.
WEAKNESSES OF MADURO
Collapse. Venezuela under Maduro is a failed state that destroyed democracy, economy and human rights. It’s a long story, the worst collapse by malfeasance in the history of the Americas.
Refugees. Going on four million refugees have turned Latin America against Maduro, who like Fidel Castro in years past, shed population intentionally in order to make the remainder more docile and controllable.
Election Fraud. Chavez manipulated elections with the class of a master trickster. Maduro is clumsy. The world did not accept his election as legitimate.
Theft. Lots has been stolen but too few have had a taste. Corrupt cronies love Maduro’s big payouts but probably 90% of the population never got one.
STRENGTHS OF GUAIDO
He’s in line. As President of the National Assembly, he is legitimate if the presidency is deemed vacant. Unlike Pedro Carmona who was handed the presidency by the military (and then acted as if he was king), Guaido is following the constitutional order. Compliments to Leopoldo Lopez for mentoring Juan.
Public Opinion. Guaido has struck a responsive chord in Venezuela, the Americas and the mass media Internet. But his is an image that needs to be filled out with strategic moves to resolve an almost impossible task, regime change, which if he pulls it off, will be complicated by more impossible missions: Running a transparent election, and then rebuilding Venezuela which will take generations, given all the damage that’s been done.
Rank and file military. If hundreds of thousands of low-level soldiers actively support Guaido, it is a whole new game. But Chavez purged the military many times squeezing disloyalty from the system. This is something Chavez knew a lot about – he was planning a coup for two decades and knew everything about subversion and detection. Whether Maduro has kept the wiring of those purges in order remains to be seen. And whether Venezuelans will finally turn on their Cuban security keepers is also a mystery. But what happens next is going to turn on what the rank and file military think and feel about events as they break.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. The Cuban-American Republican senator from Florida knows his way around Latin American politics. He led the sanctions against Chavez and Maduro. When Trump was elected, Rubio got Lillian Tintori into the Oval office where she wowed The Donald, who endorsed her, said regime change and the military option were on the table, sanctioned Maduro and followed Lillian’s advice. Without any thought for the consequences, Trump endorsed Guaido as president, announced $20 million for his government, and repeated the military option was on the table. Putin went ballistic, pledging military support to Maduro. It’s hysterical to think of the minds of Maduro, Trump and Putin in a replay of the Cuban missile crisis where the minds of Castro, Kennedy and Khrushchev avoided nuclear war. Anybody who knows how this is going to turn out is the psycho-political expert of the century.
Latin America. Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador – even the Organization of American States -- recognize Guaido as president. How this plays out in terms of controlling oil, dollars and commerce is anybody’s guess but it sure can’t help Venezuela’s current humanitarian crisis. And it is not likely to strengthen either Maduro or Guaido, just weaken Venezuela further.
WEAKNESSES OF GUAIDO
No weapons. He has only public opinion and the other guys have $11 billion of just Russian fire-power. It’s a civil war like Cortez against the indigenous: a no-brainer massacre. Guaido is not Gandhi facing down the British, who were civilized. No rules hold the Maduro thugs – they are criminals who stole big pieces of $300 billion and killed a lot of people getting there. They are used to committing violence with impunity. It could be a bloodbath.
No external intervention. Trump may bluster about it but the U.S. is not likely to use force in the Americas after so many disasters in the 20th century. Trump has been withdrawing the U.S. from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, NATO, the world. Latin American nations may restrict Venezuela but not invade. Colombia is the only possible exception to that surmise; it remains to be seen how far Ivan Duque will go. The UN will do nothing. End of story.
Patriots are on their own. Going out on the streets of Venezuela to protest for freedom, democracy, jobs and peace is among the most courageous acts of Latin Americans today. God bless and good luck.
It’s difficult to make a conclusion. The situation is too fluid and dynamic. Let’s watch what happens in the coming days and weeks. I’ll write an update of what I think. If you want, write your views below or to LAHT.
Michael Rowan is an author and political consultant who has advised presidential candidates throughout Latin America, including Governor Manuel Rosales in Venezuela, President Jaime Paz Zamora of Bolivia and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. In the U.S., he has advised winning candidates in 26 states. He has been an award winning columnist for El Universal, The Daily Journal -- predecessor to LAHT -- and the Latin American Herald Tribune since the 1990s. He is the author, with Douglas Schoen, of The Threat Closer to Home - Hugo Chavez and the War Against America.