President Maduro has hustled up a million supporters and 2.6 million government employees, winning an 18% participation in an illegal plebiscite on whether to hand him and his Chavista progressives total power this past Sunday and a vote for members of a Consituent Assembly that would be the vehicle for this final devolution of democracy. The Chavistas had threatened people on government aid and government employees with consequences unless they participated in the sham vote.
If Venezuela is on fire, however, it is largely because the opposition to the Chavistas has so far eschewed any acts of resistance beyond marching and chanting. When the main opposition leader, Leopoldo Eduardo López Mendoza, was arrested and when Chavistas physically removed the elected Congress, the opposition muted its response.
Back in March of 2016 the opposition controlled legislature, the National Assembly, called in the Organization of American States to intervene in its bid to oust the Bolivarian regime of the Chavistas. Since then there have been repeated efforts to enlist outside intervention, repeated protests, and even general strikes. But every time the Chavistas have raised their hand to strike, the opposition has held back its own hand.
While some younger people had taken to the streets to meet violence with forceful resistance, this was discouraged by opposition leaders. They refused to move from peaceful opposition to forceful resistance.
Now, with the illegal vote, a vote condemned by most powers, the machinery of totalitarian rule is warming up and getting into place. And still no forceful resistance from the opposition. One might suspect that the opposition, whose countless protests and strikes have crippled the country economically, is maneuvering to get outside powers to send in troops and do the fighting for them, fighting they have refused to do themselves.
Maduro has made it clear he expects his new puppet assembly of 545 unelected stooges to give him total rule. He has threatened to imprison the opposition, who still remain unwilling to support forceful resistance. Aside from small and unorganized bands of young men who are offering some forceful resistance, the violence of the regime has largely gone unanswered in kind.
The US State Department said the following in response to the sham plebiscite and election, "The United States stands by the people of Venezuela, and their constitutional representatives, in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy. We will continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela, including those who participate in the national constituent assembly as a result of today’s flawed election."
Just how effective those actions will be short of a military intervention is not known. So far 13 officials affiliated with the sham vote are now being sanctioned and. It is rumored further sanctions targeting Venezuela's oil sector are considered. The Trump Administration has not signalled a military response nor are there reports of any US military moves.
When a bully uses force, the wise thing is to match them and push then back, letting them know you are not an easy mark. Stand up to a bully, the saying goes, and they'll back down. Merely lobbing more words at an aggressive bully who is swinging a bat will avail you nothing. But the opposition in Venezeula won't go down the path of forceful resistance, insisting on peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience, even when regime-hired thugs conduct violent raids, attack protesters, and murder opposition members.
Violence did erupt, mostly as a result of Chavistas attacking protesters. It was reported that up to 14 people died in protests, according to opposition leader Henrique Capriles. Some desultory and disorganized forceful resistance by young men who oppose the regime, but who are not supported by the opposition leaders, may have resulted in injuries to police and National Guard troops, according to regime claims.
The new Constituent Assembly is to be seated this week and will begin working on a new Constitution aimed at transitioning from a democracy to a socialist dictatorship. All of Venezuela's neighbors, the US, and the EU refuse to recongnize the new Constituent Assembly. Of course Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba congratulated Maduro on his "victory."
While the Russian government has shown signs in the past of cooling on its support for Maduro, so far the Russian Foreign Ministry has not issued a statement on the situation.
There appear to be three possible outcomes: the Chaavistas will succeed at imposing a tyranny as the opposition continues to retreat in the face of violence, the opposition will manage to get some foreign power to intervene militarily and do the fighting they refuse to do, or the young guns will seize the reigns of the opposition and move it from mere opposition to forceful resistance in the face of violent aggression.
The temptation of some in the US will be to intervene, arguing this is in our hemisphere, arguing that Venezuela is a major oil producer, arguing that a dictatorship could lead to regional instability, or even arguing that is morally right to save the people of Venezuela from a tyranny. But a simple rule of thumb ought to be that no country should ever fight for another country's liberation from oppression unless their own interests align with such a move AND unless the people of that foreign country needing liberation offer forceful resistance first and foremost.
Let us assume our Society had a presence in Venezuela. We would be providing housing and shelter in our mission communities to members and their families. We would be mobilizing support for protecting the sanctity of our mission communities. And unless the opposition itself took the burden of offering forceful resistance, we would council our members to stay out of the dispute but to exercise their own God-given right to self-defense if set upon by aggressors. More than that, we would lobby foreign governments to cut ties with the dictatorship that is emerging and would offer relocation to political refugees throughout our global network of refugee and missionary communities. We would provide as mich food and medical supplies as possible to needy people through mission communities in-country, and use diplomacy to ensure that we could send in supplies.
It is chiefly up to the people of Venezuela to decide their response. If they chose forceful resistance, of course we would urge other countries to offer them aid and even military weapons, if requested. The only proper response to tyrants is often forceful resistance. Passive resistance is only good insofar as it is the only path open. Take note, Ghandi did use military force against his country's enemies and switched from passive to forceful resistance when he was able to do so. India is free today because the colonial power realized armed resistance was approaching and would have popular support.
It is not for us to nudge the opposition in Venezeuala. The caution here is for other countries not to take any bait of fighting some other people's revolution or civil war and spilling their blood while the opposition within the country in question refuses to burden the costs and risks themselves.