Will Desperation Make Venezuelans More Violently Radical – Here And There?
Critics joke that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blames the U.S. – especially his Venezuelan foes living in the U.S. – whenever he stubs his toe. And most of the world ignores his leftist scapegoating.
But this month the world is wondering, cautiously, if Maduro might have a case, at least when it comes to some Venezuelans residing here.
On August 4 in Caracas, two drones exploded in midair above Maduro as he gave a speech to soldiers. Maduro was unhurt in the apparent assassination attempt. But two days later his attorney general, Tarek Saab, while announcing several arrests in the drone attack, asked the U.S. government to extradite a Venezuelan living in Miami – Osman Delgado Tabosky.
Saab accused Delgado and other Venezuelans living in South Florida of taking part in the drone plot. Delgado – a health clinic operator who reportedly fled to Miami last year after being accused of aiding an armed attack on a military base in Venezuela– could not be reached for comment. But if he and other Venezuelans here were involved, it may signal a troubling development.
“Yes, I worry about that,” says Carlos Vecchio, a Venezuelan exile in South Florida and a leader of the Venezuela opposition political party Voluntad Popular, or Popular Will. (A lot of the opposition operates here now.)
“We need to keep focused on non-violent movements,” Vecchio adds, in order to dislodge Maduro from power.
Vecchio and other opposition leaders fear Maduro’s authoritarian socialist regime has made democratic change in Venezuelan all but impossible. And to many Venezuelans that means no way out of the country’s catastrophic economic collapse – the world’s worst today.
“When you have a dictatorship just closing all the exits, your are pushing the people to look for more violent exits,” says Vecchio.
Venezuelans are not violent people. So when you listen to these words from Venezuelans who say they love democracy – wow, it shocks. –Patricia Andrade
That’s what happened with Cuba’s communist dictatorship a half century ago. And it’s why Cuban exiles here became more militant – and sometimes violent. There was frequent armed commando training out in the Everglades.
“No, no, no, I don’t want to see my people, the Venezuelans, training as a military to go to Venezuela – definite no,” said Patricia Andrade, an expat who heads the Venezuela Awareness Foundationin Doral.
Last week, as Andrade and her group received donated mattresses for needy Venezuelan immigrants, she said she did not like the way many fellow expats here reacted to news of the Caracas drone attack.
“Most of the Venezuelans said the same: ‘I wish the drones could kill Maduro,’” Andrade said. “We are not violent people. And when you listen to these words from Venezuelans that love democracy – wow, it shocks.”
The more radical attitudes here are a response to the desperation back home in Venezuela. Getting food, water, medicine, electricity and myriad other human basics is soul-crushing daily struggle there.
“You have to go out of the country if you want to survive,” Andrade said.
But so many Venezuelans are leaving that neighboring countries like Peru and Ecuador are making it harder for them to take refuge there. That’s only heightened the despair back in Venezuela – and a new poll by the Caracas firm Meganánalisis shows 83 percent of Venezuelans want the socialist Maduro out of power.
More notable, though: three-quarters of them are also fed up with the opposition parties – and they want more radical action against Maduro.
“That’s why you hear so much support in the street for the drone attack,” says Meganálisis vice president Rubén Chirino.
Opposition leaders like Vecchio acknowledge what he calls the "disconnect."
"We have to regain the trust of the people," Vecchio admits.
“In any situation like this, people become willing to accept pretty much anything that would fix it,” says Phil Gunson, senior analyst in Venezuela for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict-resolution NGO.
“If negotiations will fix it, fine. If a U.S. invasion will fix it, maybe that’s fine, too.”
President Donald Trump has in fact suggested a U.S. military invasion to oust Maduro. (His aides have ruled that out.) Either way, Gunson says the Venezuelan situation is looking a lot like the Cuban situation – on both sides of the Caribbean.
“You have a domestic Venezuelan opposition that’s divided, weak, has lost a lot of credibility with the opposition public,” Gunson says. “And you have a noisy, belligerent, possibly violent and increasingly radicalized abroad – including of course in South Florida.”
Gunson adds a dysfunctional opposition only helps the Maduro regime. Again, the Cuban case is instructive: the late Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles was accused of terrorist bombings in Cuba – though he was never charged in the U.S. – and that hurt the credibility of the Cuban exile cause around the world.
Venezuelan opposition leaders like Vecchio don’t want that for their movement.
“You could end up making the situation even worse for the Venezuelans who are still in Venezuela,” Vecchio says.
Problem is, it’s getting hard to imagine how the situation for Venezuelans could get any worse.