Certainly it is a fool's errand to make any predictions for 2017, even if it is this time of the year when pundits dust off their crystal balls. Yet, this week has seen enough action that we can confidently describe the engines that will drive the political year. With a 97,63% odds for the country to crash in a wall.
The regime is cornered. So Maduro, trying to rise above chavismo divisions and his fears that the military may not be fully behind him, did his ultimate provocation: to name a radical cabinet where the intentions are clear. Those are to break anything that is not already fully controlled by the regime. The short list is the opposition leadership, the rump private sector still existing (least they would fund a political campaign for dog catcher), universities and private education. That is all I think, there is nothing else left.
For this he has named avowed communists to economic posts, and radical narko and/or terrorists at the security levels. The military still control the key posts of defense and food, those where the money is. Not to improve these sectors, but to make sure that they are the ones to take their slice first. Journalists Hannah Dreier and Joshua Goodman had a wonderful, frightening piece about how corrupt is the Venezuelan army at all levels. I can vouch from my own experiences, personal ones and those of my clients and providers they these writers are not exaggerating a bit. In fact I could tell worse stories if I were not afraid of my own security and of those involved. Remember: this is a dictatorship and I write FROM Venezuela. Besides, even if I were to report on such things to which Venezuelan court should I go? This will have to wait for better days when it will become possible to prosecute criminals. Meanwhile there is plenty of work to be done elsewhere.
Faced with the perspective of more repression, more looting, more ruin, more misery, more hunger, more disease, the National Assembly did the only thing it could do, throw away any pretense of dialogue and challenge the regime. The challenge is simple; let's have general elections for everything and see who "el pueblo" is with. That is truly the only thing the opposition can do as the high court of Venezuela has stripped it unconstitutionally of its prerogatives. Never mind that Maduro has even cut any funds for the Assembly as representatives have not gotten a pay check in months, apparently.
The opposition also threw a direct challenge at the Venezuelan Army by telling them they should chose between a narco/terrorist regime or democracy. The army replied swiftly with the expected words from Defense minister Padrino as to Maduro being inside the constitution and the opposition not (he counted the votes in 2015, he knows first hand who is on top even if he pretends to the contrary). But his words of fealty to Maduro are not interesting, the speed of his reply is. Clearly in front of such a challenge a careful worded answer would have needed a couple of days. Certainly an immediate buzz Trump-like tweet could have been sent, but the reply with all necessary arguments should have taken longer. That it was so speedy and so incomplete and almost besides the point tells me that the army is now controlled by a tight small committee that does not consult any one else in the ranks. I am taking here at most of a couple of dozen generals and admirals (note that Venezuela has more generals than the US). Far from reassuring, that Padrino letter raises more doubts about what is really going on inside the army and what hold he has at this point.
Thus in front such stern positions there is no point in awaiting for a renewed dialogue. The opposition has stated clearly that it does not plan to attend on January 13 and thus the regime sent the bro/sis team to the Vatican in a hurry to try to have the Vatican seat the opposition leadership. At least Jorge and Delcy did have time for some lingerie shopping, they do have dollars you see. yet, note that mediators are not back in town and that they had to go to Rome to ask the Vatican to come back. January 13 does not look good for the regime which counts on a "dialogue" to gain time. It worked out well since it gave an excuse to suppress a recall election that would have been suppressed anyway. But there are limits.
The thing about the dialogue is that the world is starting to shrink around the regime. When you name a Hezbollah friend and known paramilitary organizer involved in drug trafficking as the vice president of a country you need to compensate throwing flowers from some window. At the end of last year Mercosur gave the boot to Venezuela. A few days ago Peru opened its borders to Venezuelan refugees, quite an embarrassment for a regime that pretends we are all fat and healthy and happy. With Trump about to be sworn in the real danger is not that the OAS applies sanctions to Venezuela, it is that the US sends the OAS ad patres and organizes an anti Venezuelan coalition of those that matter. Mind you, Trump will not waste a Marine's drop of blood on Venezuela but he will apply such a quarantine on a bratty country that the Cuban embargo will be a child's play. And not even to get its hand on a Venezuelan oil that frankly, my dear, the US does not give a damn about it anymore. At least with a functional OAS, even if banned, Venezuela could lodge complaints........
These are the driving forces of what will unfold over the next months. A regime whose leadership faces international prosecution fights for its survival and cannot come up with anything else but put in charge its worst elements. An opposition that has nothing left but prepare for massive protests and massive repression. An army that needs to figure out whether it has any future left as an army. An international community that is becoming aware of Venezuela as a time bomb for refugees.
You do the math and forge your own vision for the first semester of 2017.