Endgame in Venezuela: Dictatorship or Re-Democratization? Mikael Wigell, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, June 2017

“The government having closed down all parliamentary avenues for the opposition, it is likely that its civil resistance campaign has passed the point of no return and that the crisis in Venezuela has reached its endgame. How it unfolds will depend on the cohesiveness of the opposition and the Government, respectively, as well as the actions taken by the Armed Forces and the international community”.

The international community should aim to influence developments in Venezuela by facilitating a negotiated re-democratization. Redemocratization begins as a consequence of divisions within the regime itself. Fissures inside the regime have appeared. Maduro’s proposal for a Constituent Assembly to draft a Cuban-styled Constitution has met with resistance from some Chavistas, and regime loyalists in the Supreme Court. The Chief of the Armed Forces, Vladimir Padrino, advised Maduro to revise the Supreme Court’s ruling on March 30 that usurped all functions of the National Assembly. The Head of the National Defence Council, General Alexis López Ramírez, resigned over Maduro’s plans. These factions of the regime want to halt Maduro’s slide to dictatorship. What external actors can do is exacerbate those splits and strengthen incentives for negotiating a power-sharing agreement with moderate elements of the opposition. Protest and resistance campaigns succeed when they exacerbate such divisions and spur defections from the ruling regime. Resistance movements should thus stay open to negotiation with ruling elites and withstand pressure from more radicalized elements to go for a ‘maximalist’ strategy.  The opposition should focus on peaceful resistance aimed at attracting more mass support and former Chavistas. In addition to regional powers (Brazil), the group needs to include Cuba, the US and China, all with interests in Venezuela and the ability to influence. The military top brass is entrenched in the bureaucracy and the economy: they may have to be bought off and given guarantees. The political struggle has reached its endgame. Unlike before, the opposition is united behind a civil resistance campaign. Maduro can only remain in power with a full-fledged dictatorship. To this end, he is escalating repression and expanding his coercive powers by setting up new paramilitary forces. Unlike earlier waves of protest, driven by a small faction of the opposition, the MUD (Mesa de Unidad Democrática) now stands united behind the demonstrations, as does the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference (Catholic Church).


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Endgame in Venezuela: Dictatorship or Re-Democratization? Mikael Wigell, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, June 2017


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