Military forces of the socialist government of Venezuela terminated an attempted uprising on a military base in the city of Valencia on Sunday. Dressed in military fatigues and armed with assault rifles, the group that the government described as “terrorists” released a video in which the leader declared that they were in rebellion. Saying that anyone who refused to join them was, therefore, a “military target,” the Capt. Juan Caguaripano said, “This is not a coup but a military and civil action to re-establish constitutional order.” Caguaripano said, "We are united now, more than ever, with the brave people of Venezuela who do not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro's murderous tyranny."

Diosdado Cabello, the deputy leader of the Socialist Party who has been linked to narco-trafficking by the US State Department, said that troops loyal to the government quickly controlled the situation at the Paramacay base and made several arrests. There are reports that at least two people were killed.

Venezuela has been a powderkeg for several months. Protests have caused dozens of deaths during confrontation between protesters and security forces. Tensions have grown in what was once South America’s richest country ever since the death of former president Hugo Chavez in 2013. Chavez was the prime mover in what he called the Bolivarian Revolution, which introduced price controls, property seizures, welfare giveaways, and other socialist measures. A drop in world oil prices and economic mismanagement have wrecked the economy and caused spiraling inflation. Shortages of food, basic commodities, and medicines have been coupled with failing hospitals and infrastructure. Inflation has surpassed 700 percent.

President Nicolas Maduro had been able to rely on the loyalty of security forces to impose his will on an increasingly restive populace. A drop in the price of petroleum, which is Venezuela’s main export, has made it harder to sustain socialist policies. Venezuelans clamoring for democracy and change have followed dissidents such as Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma to demand the Maduro leave office. Lopez and Ledezma were recently taken into custody. However, the elderly Ledezma was returned to house arrest. Lopez remains imprisoned; his condition remains unknown.

Maduro spoke on his weekly TV show, "Sundays with Maduro," and referred to the rebellion, saying, "a week ago, we won with votes and today we had to beat terrorism with bullets."

"They attack with terrorism and hate. We attack with our work, our love. They destroy; we build," he said. Maduro frequently peppers his speeches with pledges that he will resist the United States, which he has blamed for his country’s troubles, and with the slogan: “No to Donald Trump!”

Referring to the early morning attack, approximately 95 miles west of Caracas, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the rebellion was mounted by "criminal civilians dressed in military uniforms." Palomino called it a "terrorist attack of a paramilitary nature." On his show, Maduro claimed that there were 10 attackers. "Two were killed "by shots fired by those who are loyal to our nation. One is injured. Out of these 10 attackers ... nine are civilians and only one is lieutenant who deserted his post months ago." Venezuelan Minister of Communications Ernesto Villegas said seven men were arrested after the "mercenary attack." Venezuelan army units responded to the attack with armored vehicles and helicopters. The army is actively searching for rebels who escaped.

Attorney General fired

On July 30, Venezuelans went to the polls to elect a new national assembly in an election that was widely contested by Maduro’s opponents. In its first session, the new National Constituent Assembly fired Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz as it first order of business. The body also prohibited her from leaving the country, froze her assets, and barred her from ever seeking public office again. Her dismissal came after she vowed to investigate allegations of electoral fraud surrounding last Sunday's ballot. Speaking on Sunday to reporters, Ortega said,  "I will continue being the attorney general of this country." Saying that the election was illegal, Ortega said of the Maduro government, "I thought they had principles, ethics and values."

The new National Constituent Assembly has new and emboldened powers. It is expected to produce a new national constitution that will provide new powers to Maduro’s socialist government. 

The Organization of American States warned Venezuela to guarantee Ortega’s safety and allow her to remain in office. MERCOSUR, the South American trading bloc, has suspended Venezuela indefinitely until it sees a "re-establishment of democratic order." However, the move by the bloc does not impact trade or the free movement of Venezuelans among Mercosur countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

The National Constituent Assembly is seeking to restructure the attorney general's office, nominating Tarek William Saab, a Maduro ally. To the applause of the assembly members, he was sworn in on Saturday. He and more than a dozen of Maduro’s other supporters are now the target of official US sanctions.

In recent months, Venezuela’s military has repeatedly affirmed its "unconditional loyalty" to Maduro. However, that loyalty is being tested because of the Venezuelan people’s deprivation, which also affects military and police families. There have been reports that armed military have seized cattle and even goats from impoverished compatriots. Venezuelans have been reduced to eating cats and dogs, and even refuse directly out of garbage trucks.

Venezuela-Cuba Connection

There are regional stakes at play in the stability of the Maduro government. Cuba, for example, as well as Nicaragua, have been dependent on petroleum from Venezuela. According to Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez, because Venezuela is Cuba’s leading trading partner, Maduro’s departure would be a significant blow. “For the past two years, we have seen that country’s problems coming but no measures have been taken to prevent the end of this commercial relationship,” he said. Venezuela’s economic woes have caused shortages in socialist Cuba. “The country {Cuba} cut US $1.5 billion in imports in the first half of this year, which will directly affect the population,” he said. He suggested that Cuba could alleviate its economic problems by exporting highly qualified labor to other countries with oil reserves, such as Angola or Algeria. It was in Angola, for example, that Cuba sent troops in support of that country’s socialist government during the 1980s. “It will never be the same as in Venezuela, and those other countries could never absorb the amount of {Cuban} doctors that there are in Venezuela, but it would at least cushion the blow,” he said.

“In the event that the supply of Venezuelan oil stops, it would be worse than during the time of the {collapse of} the USSR,” Perez explained. “Venezuela provides half of the fuel we need.”

Cuba must expand trade on its own. However, this may be difficult because of the Castro government’s recent decision to freeze the granting of licenses. According to Pérez, “There is a mass of workers who could get out of state tutelage and pay taxes on activities related to what they studied.” He added, “This would prevent engineers with degrees in computer science from going to Canada or becoming taxi drivers.”



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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