Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde translate an interview with Maragarita López Maya, a Venezuelan history professor, about the crisis there. Her discussion of the military brought up a question I've been thinking about.
MLM: Who is sustaining Maduro in power right now?
HP: Yes, and I will allow myself to propose an answer: the military.MLM: The military. Maduro is sustained by the military sector, but also by a group of tribes, of political families that are drawing benefits from their links to the state, that have very important interests in the state, corrupt political families that are enjoying complete immunity.
HP: Why are the military playing into this game? And I ask because the model is obviously not workingMLM: The government is highly militarized, in the sense that it has been penetrated by the military sector. They now enjoy a role as protagonist that they did not have in the previous democracy, or even during Chavez’s period. They now control very important power spaces and money. I mean of course the top sectors of the military.
HP: Could the referent for this be the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez?MLM: No, because the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez was not a personalist government such as this one: in that case it was the rule of the military institution. Today it is not the military as an institution that is governing.
HP: Let’s say that it is inside the government.MLM: Yes, but is has also been hijacked by powerful ruling groups. It is an institution hijacked by military mafias that control contraband and very lucrative business interests. Remember that it is an institution that has been purged several times. And if we look at military promotions, Maduro has continued Chavez’s policy of only promoting loyal officers. There is a sort of mutual hijacking. The military has hijacked Maduro and he has hijacked the military. I believe the high command, even though this is an issue about which much remains in the dark, does not represent the military institution. So at this moment there is not actually a military institution governing. What we see are groups within the military that share illegal interests with the government and that enjoy immunity. The officers that are not connected with the corruption networks, the ones in the barracks; they are suffering from the same shortages, the same scarcities as the general population. They probably have sons and daughters attending the opposition marches and families complaining because they have to queue for food. I believe that there is also a lot of discontent there.
I keep thinking about how this is Hugo Chávez. He was one of those officers on the outside, suffering like everyone else while higher-up officers were making decisions based on their own self-interest. The 1992 coup attempts were against the government but also the high command.
That raises the additional question of whether there is the mirror image of Hugo Chávez in the ranks. No one had heard of Chávez back then, and presumably we wouldn't know who a possible mirror image would be.
Remember too that the straw that broke the camel's back was the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez ordering troops to fire on protesting civilians. Chávez was sick and managed not to be in that position personally but it made a huge impression on him and many others. Many were traumatized. They were shooting at their own people and felt much more sympathy for them than for the generals giving them orders.
The referent, then, is not Pérez Jiménez, but Andrés Pérez.