Recent events in Venezuela have demonstrated just how difficult it is to remove an established totalitarian regime. Despite poverty levels of over 90%, widespread hunger and malnutrition, absence of electricity and water supply, collapse of medical facilities and 3.4 million refugees, the regime is still holding onto power.
The Chavista regime has consolidated its power over the economy through nationalisation and price controls, and maintains an iron grip over the media and judiciary. Its extensive military forces are backed up by informal regime-financed gangs called collectivos who terrorise and murder at will.
The longevity of failing totalitarian systems is also evidenced by the case of the Cuban regime, now in power for over sixty years despite being an economic basket-case. Cuba maintains a deeply inefficient and corrupt Soviet-style economic system. State employees concentrate on just getting by by selling goods stolen from their place of work, or slipping away to do informal private jobs. The worsening food shortage means it is very difficult for Cubans to buy basic goods such as eggs, flour, chicken, cooking oil and powdered milk. Collectivised agriculture barely functions and Cuba has to import most of its food, which it cannot afford to carry on doing. Yet despite being unable to feed their people, the Cuban regime is firmly in power. Their expertise is in developing and maintaining a police state. They have eliminated all opposition and brutally repress all signs of dissent.
Cuba have exported their totalitarian expertise to Venezuela, where they designed the security apparatus they now oversee. In an interview with The Washington Post in March, one former lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan army who has fled to the United States said Cubans dressed in civilian clothing acted as “our supervisors and decision-makers.”
But there is still hope for Venezuela. The Chavista regime is not as entrenched as the Cuban one, and has no external backers prepared to continue to bail it out financially. Juan Guaido’s recent attempt to persuade the military to switch sides wasn’t successful. However, the fact that the military sat on the fence all day, and that the head of the intelligence service, General Manuel Christopher Figuera, did switch sides and has now left the country, shows that military support for the regime is fragile and wavering.
The analysis of Admiral James Stavridis, former head of U.S. Southern Command, is instructive:
“I wouldn’t categorize it as a failure at this point. I’d categorize it as a near miss on a success. From where we were a year ago, the trends continue to diminish the chances of Nicholás Maduro remaining in power. The country is spiralling downward….I for one find credible the reports that Maduro was about to fold. I think the Russians stiffened his spine, and I think the presence of thousands of Cuban military and intelligence personnel was decisive. Despite all that, I think this one was right at a tipping point. I think the scene of action is shifting to Cuba. I think the next logical move for the Trump administration is applying pressure to Cuba.”
It’s primarily the Cubans who are standing in the way of Venezuelan freedom. As Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the 35-nation Organization of American States, has just said, “If we want to help Venezuelans, we must deal with the dictatorship in Cuba. The only military invasion of Venezuela that has occurred began slowly some 20 years ago & has been perpetrated by the armed forces & security, intelligence & counter-intelligence of Cuba.”
Once democracy is restored to Venezuela, Cuba will lose its main foreign subsidies of $2 billion to $3 billion per annum. We could very well see a domino effect. When the totalitarian regimes falls in Venezuela, the Cuban dictatorship may follow.
More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website.