Last month, a conference took place at Florida International University (FIU) on national security in the Western Hemisphere. Speakers came from diverse backgrounds; included were academics from varying orientations as well as current and former government officials from different administrations. They shared their views.
Finally, there seems to be a consensus that Venezuela is a narco-state possessing a dictatorship that will never be willing to concede power.
It was recognized that the government has connections with dubious elements and rogue states. There was also discussion about China and Russia’s increasing presence in the Latin American region.
There has never been a bi-partisan recognition of these problems. This time there was.
The conference was peaceful and civilized. However, there were some differences of opinion and approach. One of these disagreements centered around the idea of a military coup d’état as a possible solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
The call for a coup was made by Juan Cruz, a White House Senior Director for Latin America and a special assistant to the president. Cruz believes in the legitimacy of a military coup given a provision in the Venezuelan constitution (article 350) that enables "civil disobedience to any regime, law, or authority that contradicts the values, principles, and democratic guarantees or whittles away human rights."
Roger Pardo Maurer, a former undersecretary of defense in the George W. Bush adminstration supported Cruz’ position.
Frank Mora, a former undersecretary of defense under President Barack Obama rejected the military coup option. He declared that the military is not an agent of democratic change.
Others — supported Mora’s view declaring that a coup could bring about more violence.
The armed forces constitute the pillar sustaining the Maduro regime.
Military officers fill half of the cabinet posts and control a good portion of the Venezuelan economy, including about 20 state-owned companies. According to reports, salaries of senior military officers are very high. By contrast those who rank colonel or below earn approximately what the rest of the population does.
Thus, mid-rank officers and below are suffering the same hardship and starvation as the rest of the population, particularly those who hold low military ranks.
This is why officers of the armed forces recently began to be more vocal about their discontent and there have been rumors that a military insurrection could take place.
Thus, the Maduro regime proceeded to randomly arrest military officers in order to inflict fear among the armed forces.
The result? A retired general, a former minister of the interior, and approximately 20 army commanders were arrested.
Concurrently, hundreds of officers and others are requesting to retire from the Venezuelan army. This is creating anxiety among the Venezuelan political and military elites who are afraid of losing important human resources.
However, these expressions of discontent have not been enough to break the military as the main sustaining force of the regime. In fact, the rebellion led by Capt. Juan Caguaripano last August was effectively put down.
Likewise, Oscar Perez, a former forensic police pilot who attacked the Venezuelan Ministry of Interior from his helicopter last June, was killed by Venezuelan security forces this past January.
Those rebellions failed. Low-ranking officers still obey the orders of their superiors.
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan political and military officers as well as judges and members of the electoral council. However, so far only 44 Venezuelan individuals have been sanctioned. Those sanctions were followed by sanctions by other countries, particularly the European Union.
However, this is insufficient.
The number of individuals and officers sanctioned remains small.
Sanctions must be applied to the entire political leadership of the ruling party and all the officers who are above the rank of colonel. The goal should be to further expand the discontent among the armed forces and force the officers to realize that the regime’s boat is sinking.
The idea is to create a break between the regime and the military. This could be complemented by providing incentives to military officers by offering pardons, amnesties or other types of spurs.
The scenario I have in mind is the 1986 deposal of the Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. As the popular uprising intensified key generals in the army loyal to Marcos defected and joined the popular rebellion.
In the Philippines, the desertion of high military officers persuaded the government that it could no longer continue in power. No military coup took place. The military followed the popular will, leaving no choice for Mr. Marcos. Bloodshed was avoided. This is what needs to be encouraged in Venezuela.
Let us not waste more time with the gradual approach but apply crippling sanctions now.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Barry University. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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