It’s tempting to call last weekend’s failed drone attack on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro daring.
Unfortunately, the only thing you can ultimately call it is dumb – because assassination attempts are only going to make Maduro dig in, not give in.
When Maduro claimed last Saturday he’d been the target of exploding drones, the world was rightly skeptical. He and his socialist regime are shamelessly notorious for concocting assassination conspiracies to divert attention from their disastrous and dictatorial rule.
But the next day videos surfaced that, when examined closely, caused even opposition activists I telephoned in Caracas to admit Maduro’s claim was credible. The only question, they cautioned, was whether anti-government militants really launched the drones – or whether the regime itself staged the attack to justify another crackdown on political opponents.
Now that uncertainty seems resolved too. A former Venezuelan police chief-turned-opposition warrior, Salvatore Lucchese, tells Reuters he helped a flimsy corps of civilian and ex-military radicals called la resistencia (the resistance) organize the drone strike. One faction of the “resistance” known as Soldados de Franela (Soldiers in T-Shirts) has claimed responsibility for the attack, which left Maduro unharmed.
If la resistencia is indeed responsible, this marks its second anti-Maduro offensive. Last year, rebel cop Oscar Pérez commandeered a police helicopter, buzzed the Miraflores presidential palace and dropped stun grenades. Six months later, Pérez and six other Soldados were killed – evidence suggests they were executed – in a police raid on their safe house.
Pérez’s death may have made him a martyr in the struggle against Venezuela’s brutish security forces. But his adventurism made him more of a menace in the effort to restore Venezuela’s democracy.
It hardened Maduro’s hard hand, letting him ramp up his assertion that all who oppose him, from protesters in Caracas to politicos in Washington, are joined in a vast and violent coup plot. It also risked discrediting Venezuela’s democratic opposition by associating it, fairly or not, with extralegal regime-change schemes.
And that’s also what last Saturday’s drone derring-do did. It’s already made the regime feel justified in throwing out a wider dragnet. Half a dozen resistencia suspects have been arrested so far – but so have opposition politicians who most likely have no ties to the attack.
Among them is Juan Requesens, a member of the National Assembly Maduro unconstitutionally dissolved last year and an outspoken regime critic. On Tuesday, Venezuelan secret police hauled him from his Caracas apartment – and he hasn’t been heard from since. On Wednesday, the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court ordered the arrest of opposition leader Julio Borges.
But there’s something else especially dumb about actions like the drone attack: They’re very, very unlikely to ever dislodge the socialists from power, no matter how catastrophically Maduro has destroyed Venezuela’s once oil-rich economy.
More militant Venezuelan expats often ask me, What about the example of Chile? What about the stunning if failed assassination attempt on right-wing military dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1986 – and how it eventually helped prod him to allow a national plebiscite in 1988 on whether to let him continue his rule? Pinochet lost that referendum, and democracy returned to Chile in 1990.
Here are the big problems with that comparison:
First, Pinochet was delusional enough to think he’d win the 1988 plebiscite handily. Maduro’s fairly delusional, too – but he knows he’d lose a vote like that in an avalanche. That’s why Venezuela’s lapdog electoral council bogusly nullified the millions of signatures the opposition gathered last year for a presidential recall referendum.
Second, Pinochet faced a smart, unified and diverse democratic opposition movement whose credibility with Chileans and the international community was broad and solid, even after radical acts like the 1986 ambush. Maduro faces a fractured, dysfunctional and often elitist opposition which, despite distancing itself from la resistencia, is still eyed warily inside and outside Venezuela.
Third, if the militants had actually killed Pinochet in ’86, his regime might well have withered without him. Not so if that were to happen to Maduro. He’d be easily replaced by thugs like Vice President Tareck El Aissami or socialist party enforcer Diosdado Cabello, and they’d retain the military’s loyalty.
All of which is why Venezuela’s opposition doesn’t need more explosive drones. It needs more persuasive democrats.