While Diosdado Cabello was scheming to dismiss once and for all the National Assembly, on January 3 while on a flight to Punto Fijo a plane mechanical problem forced him into emergency landing in Curaçao. During the protocolar routine registry of the plane weapons and money were found, forcing Curaçao gouvernement to hold Cabello in the island and giving time to the US to officially demand extradition on January 5, with a duly request to the Netherlands. On December 6 the Venezuelan Navy decided to blockade Curaçao but as the first ship arrived in view of Willemstad a US fighter dropped a charge a few hundred meters ahead showing that they were determined to get their man this time around. This coupled, of course, with the US Navy receiving orders to protect the shipping lanes to and from Curaçao. On December 10 Cabello was flown to the US as relations were totally severed between Venezuela and Canada, USA and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile in Caracas the MUD opposition broke over supporting Diosdado Cabello since the US had released evidence against Cabello and by a one vote majority installed as a new chair to the National Assembly that refused to support Cabello. The regime declared the National Assembly in treason to the fatherland and on December 19 the TSJ high court dissolved it while the army seized the National Assembly at night.
Even though a blackout in communication was established the MUD managed to call for massive demonstrations on January 23, the anniversary of 1958, the year when democracy returned to Venezuela. If the extensive rallies were pacific in nature the "colectivos" did manage provocations and the Nazional Guard with Maduro, in fear of future such displays of street power decided to repress. This one got out of hand and by January 25 we could count more than 200 killed, scores of injured and jailed people.
Mercosur struck back first and in an unanimous vote expelled Venezuela on January 30. Venezuela severed relations with Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. But Uruguay decided to sever relations anyway on February 2, annulling a ridiculous attempt at division by Venezuela playing favorites. At the same time on February 2 the chair of UNASUR was disowned by 5 countries who refused to gather for a summit unless Samper was ousted and a condemnation against Maduro's regime violence was unanimous and public. Thus died UNASUR, useless from day one of its existence.
Meanwhile as the Obama administration faded the new State Secretary made no bones in pressuring the OAS to condemn Venezuela by implementing once and for all the Democratic Charter in its full force. Sensing that this could mean the end of the OAS just as UNASUR unraveled, consensus build fast for this outcome and by February 9 it was clear what the vote at the OAS would be. Amen of the European Union condemnation of Venezuela for its attempted attack against one of its members state in late January.
The regime was unable to deal with the situation not only because its crimes could not be excused but also because its foreign service made mistake over mistake. In spite of Cuba's help and threats by February 8 six countries in the Americas had broken with Cuba as the US reversed all signs of ouverture left from Obama's rapprochement policy. It was time for the regime to take a dose of Realiticum. On February 10 Maduro appointed Vladimir Padrino as president, replaced Delcy Rodriguez at the foreign ministry dispatching in a hurry Timoteo Zambrano as new minister to the OAS assembly, and resigned.
If Padrino could not stop the OAS from suspending Venezuela he did get a few days before sanctions were fully decided upon. But democracy was not going to return just like that. After all, half of the National Assembly was either in jail or in exile and two dead. Besides the corrupt military was ready to repress further thinking, naively, that removing Maduro was enough. As a consequence of that army division on February 20 a limited agreement was signed with a portion of the opposition recognizing Padrino as president under three conditions that within a year a new Electoral Board would be named, that elections would be held and that negotiations to reopen the National Assembly would be held with all parts so that its work would resume once a global agreement for governance for the next two years would be nailed.
In short, even the more recalcitrant voices of the opposition were forced to accept that the regime would survive for at least another year. Which did not mean that chavismo was on board as many of its components refused the deal even though they did nothing to stop it. And not forgetting the deep division within the army.
Even though food riots continued, that shortages became worse, Padrino could start to rule and reorganize the country. The pace would be glacial but would exist. Repression notwithstanding, by May a free market of currency exchange was established along a refurbished and devaluated official rate. By July a system of subsidies for the poorest was set in place while most price controls were officially lifted. A wave of inflation hit the country but by October the monthly average was down towards a rate below 200% yearly.
The problem of Padrino was that even though the price of oil went up to 60, the status of pariah country did not allow him to borrow as needed. Nor could borrow the private sector nearly collapsed. There was a need of political settlement. The first thing was to put all of the blame on Nicolas Maduro. As an investigation on the crimes of January 23 was launched the new regime allowed Maduro to leave for exile to Cuba on March first. At the same time three other major figures of the regime applied for asylum in Nicaragua and Bolivia, a convenient way for Padrino to ease some of the culpability he so richly deserved.
The National Assembly agreement was signed on March 10 and this one was seated again and finally recognized by the TSJ, though not all of the 2016 actions against it were reversed. In particular the deputies from Amazonas were declared null without any election previewed to replace them, killing the 2/3 majority once and for all. To avoid a civil war the MUD had to accept these conditions getting in exchange the freedom of most political prisoners and the recovery of the National Assembly TV, but only for cable transmission. The rest of press and media remained controlled.
The meek financial measures of Padrino were approved by the Assembly and a legal budget was voted allowing Padrino to start renegotiating some of the debt of Venezuela starting in July. On July 17 a mutiny in a barrack showed that Padrino was far from controlling the army and he was forced into concluding a political settlement of sorts. But the divisions inside the MUD had also taken their toll and both exhausted sides decided to sign the final truce: a new CNE was finally installed early August and elections were called for December but only for municipal council and state legislatures. Governors and mayors were left for 2018. And for December 2018 it was tentatively accepted that both a new president and a new Assembly would be elected.
While all of this was taking place Padrino had started a move to control crime, in particular the one that stopped production from increasing. As such violence was heavy in the countryside as gangs were rounded up and, well, massacred. A famous prison was also taken to break down the notorious system of ransom and extortion managed from inside that penal location. But that army had neither the wish or the guts to tackle crime as it should. "colectivos" still ruled large sectors of cities while all evidence seemed to indicate that drug trafficking kept running smoothly and FARC collaboration was untouched. Rural safety would only start showing some signs of improvement late in 2017 while city security remained as bad, if not worse in some areas.
All in all the country muddled through. If shortages were not solved at least by December they were not getting worse. Crime was not dealt with but at least a credible intention to reduce it now existed. After the dive of the first semester it was a relief that things did not get worse in the second semester. The regime in a strange show of optimism decided to go ahead with that runt of an election, benefiting in its eyes from the opposition divisions, the impossibility thus to clearly score victory or defeat to its real extent. The idea of course was to give enough time to local leadership to regenerate in order to avoid a major disaster in 2018.
But it was too late for the regime. The campaign was marred when evidence that the help to Cuba remained high while the problems fo the country were far from solved. The result was without appeal. Division of the opposition and all pro regime electoral advantage considered, the regime could only keep a state majority in only 5 states, and lost the 15 most important cities councils.
The Padrino experiment had run its course. He had not been able (or was that unwilling?) to do real reforms and any improvement that the country may have sensed in late 2017 was in real danger to be lost in the dort quarter of 2018. Food riots were frequent again, as well as the novelty of one major hospital burned down by an angry mob. To avoid utter discomfiture and the real risk of a massive popular revolt Padrino started 2018 breaking with the Cuban life line and accepting governor and mayor elections for April, hoping to ride on that wave of strong decisions. For good measure it was announced that no governor would be nominated for reelection, MUD or chavismo, as the price to set a date. This also went for the 15 major mayors.
But it all came for naught. The opposition won all but two states, some with 20 points margin, in spite of its division. A large majority of town halls went also for the opposition, many where the opposition was united by a 2 to 1 margin.
The Padrino transition had failed, eaten by its own demons. On May 11 Padrino named opposition sage Aveledo vice president and resigned on the 12. It was up to Aveledo to direct the last 6 months of transition until the December election, facing a portion of unreconstructed army that, though an opposition concession, could not be touched until 2019. And thus chavismo and opposition entered the maelstrom of a presidential campaign divided, in a country which crisis seemed endless in spite of some occasional improvements. But at least the Cuban pension had stopped, the OAS and Mercosur welcomed back Venezuela and international help started to flow. And Aveledo could release the last political prisoners, in particular Leopoldo Lopez, the big hope of chavismo to wreck opposition unity in 2018.
This game-of-thronian fantasy is my new year present to my dear readers. May you have the best possible 2017. And pray for us who are reading or writing from Venezuela.