Monday, February 25, 2019

After Cúcuta: what type of intervention?

The tumultuous events of February 23 at the Colombian borders leave a few things clear for the world.

1) the regime is not that strong: it had to use its assault militia, "colectivos", to push back and burn trucks of humanitarian aid. The army apparently is not that reliable, as underlined by scores of military crossing over to Colombia.
2) the regime will do anything to remain in office.  Murdering people in the most abject forms is not a problem for them, not even a brief qualm.
3) the choice now is between a strong move or letting Venezuela rot, infested with Colombian guerilla and drug traffickers with a new wave of emigration that this time could reach 5 millions within a couple of years.  What would be the choice of the international community now that it is demonstrated that the opposition is a large majority who has tried any possible conventional political means, leaving hundreds of fallen?

The choice, if you can call that a choice, is between a direct intervention or some form of real blockade, not the fake embargo against Cuba.

Which would be the pros and cons of a direct intervention?

The first problem is that Venezuela is much bigger than Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq,  Vietnam,  Korea, or any European country. This is made worse as large parts of the country have no adequate transport system and that the existing one is in sorry shape.

The second problem is that any invasion would have logistics problems of its own coupled with nightmare logistics for a population that cannot produce today a survival level of food.

A third problem is that Venezuela is plagued with large areas controlled by Colombian guerillas who, contrarily to Venezuelan troops, know how to fight wars.

The fourth problem is the denial of LatAm against any intervention on the grounds we can resolve issues ourselves when facts show otherwise.

A fifth problem harder to evaluate is how tough is the paramilitary apparatus of the regime (colectivos and militia).

But there are some pros.

First the same doubts on the resolve of paramilitary. I, for one, think that the bulk will quickly disperse, particularly with the militia. If it is true that colectivos are mere criminal gangs with no future when the rule of law returns, it implies that many of them will fight until death, but not all. Let's note that the regime is recruiting in jails.
The biggest asset to a foreign intervention is, like in Panama, that a large exhausted majority of the population will welcome it. Why else would the regime take so much pains in faking elections?

A second pro is that chavismo has centralized so much the country that taking off a few well targeted objectives might be enough to make the regime fall.

Is all that enough to justify an intervention? You can't say. Do not believe for a minute those who demand an immediate intervention, nor those who term an intervention a terrible  mistake: they are both wrong. If you analyze with care, the success of a putative intervention relies more on timing than anything else.

But were intervention not a choice the remaining optio is a stern blockade, that may even require a limited intervention such as seizing a harbour.  Blockades are expensive too and will make enemies of those that want to keep trading but at least they are less expensive than wars.

For a succesful blockade of Venezuela you would need most of the following:
- an agreement among many countries (not too difficult and necessary to  bypass UN knee jerk objections).
- extending sanctions to more regime personnel AND to their families. This last one is important since few of these relatives have criticized the regime and are too happy spending the loot.
- an inspection of any ship that wants to get in or out of Venezuela. If they refuse inspection they cannot get in. Period.  Russians and Chinese will have to agree if enough LatAm countries agree, if anything for the Chinese to protect their own investments in the area.
- only food and medicine are allowed in when genuine NGO are allowed to control distribution. The regime refusal will weaken it more at home.
- an active  blockade inside Venezuelan waters to block drug traffic around the Orinoco delta and eastern waters. Including the shooting down of any airplane without proper flight permission. That would not stop drug traffic but maybe slow it bad enough for business that traffickers may drop Maduro to send away foreign ships.
- and more options along the line, including even the take over of La Guaira, not difficult to do and relatively easy to maintain for a few weeks putting great strain on the regime to keep control of Caracas.

These things need to be discussed openly now. The time of qualms and feel good sympathy is over.

And need I remind folks that if we have reached such bleak prospects it is because foreign powers could not be bothered before with chavismo even though many warnings were issued since 2003 (like from many  Venezuelan blogs, just saying). They got their Munich, time to face up their mistake. 

21 comments:

  1. Interesting commentary. I hadn't thought about a blockade although that makes sense as an option. As for possible military action, it's worth noting that any military action that led to anything short of lightning victory would be immensely unpopular in the US and not only from the far left.

    There probably are a number of members of the elite who might favor action on the grounds of helping the Venezuelan people. Marco Rubio is one, Mike Pence might be another, even some Democrats, such as Robert Menendez as well could endorse military action as necessary to help a suffering population. However, Donald Trump himself almost certainly doesn't care much about the Venezuelan people, nor, more importantly, does the vast majority of his base. Trump was elected, in part, by running against foreign wars.

    Trump bashes Maduro mainly so he can try to link his domestic opponents to the failures of Venezuelan socialism. I suppose Trump could be goaded into ordering military action if he feels inaction makes him look feckless, but that would be the only reason.

    That wouldn't preclude some sort special ops action that takes out Maduro or other regime higher ups, but even if that was successful, would it be enough? I think the bar for US military action is pretty high based on US domestic considerations alone.

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  2. Daniel, the optimum solution is for Guaidó to request assistance to create a 100% Venezuelan police force, with a core made up of military personnel who fled and will flee. I believe it can start with about 5000 but has to grow to at least 20000.

    A sound intervention strategy has to aim to preserve the armed forces structure and as much personnel as possible, therefore what is needed is a group of well armed police (using the term police is important even though they can be armed with full military gear). The regime is relying on convicts, colectivos, and small contingents of PNB and GNB to do the heavy lifting. Therefore a ground force focused on taking control of a small part of national territory, BACKED by air, naval, and logistical support by other nations, can have success. Rule of thumb tells us that 5000 "police", backed by an air carrier air wing can control an area with 100,000 inhabitants quite easily. Thus the initial target has to aim at a small city.

    Let's observe what was regime response to events on the 23rd: in Ureña they used small GNB contingents which numbered about 50 at each bridge, and the presence of Iris Varela tells me the "security forces" must have been, or included, convicts. The response to the Pemon rebellion in Santa Elena de Uairen was a convoy of school buses loaded with colectivos, milicianos, and some PNB and GNB which proceeded to shoot up the town.

    Therefore I deduce the regime lacks a rapid response force, it's made up of lightly armed irregulars, and can't use the Armed Forces AS LONG AS THE ENTRY IS BY ARMED VENEZUELANS BRINGING FOOD, MEDICINE, AND SECURITY.

    Using the same rule of thumb I explained, with a 20000 strong force it's possible to control an area with 1 million inhabitants. The premise is that close air support will be available. And that logistics are set up to provide food medicine water, gas bottles and power.

    Once this expeditionary force has one million within its control, it should start receiving a flux of volunteers to allow creation of a militia. Whole military units may shift allegiance, and thus the main issue will be figuring out how to sort out spies and saboteurs. I have used a boilerplate ratio precisely because I'm afraid the regime will be infiltrating their guys.

    So what's the Cuban reaction going to be? They can't send bus convoys loaded with colectivos because they would be cut off by air power, they are unlikely to send army units, the navy and Air Force will be useless, and they will see that, once a significant force has punched through that cellophane they use to keep 30 million Venezuelans hostage, all they can do is caused a bunch of dead and risk the capture of Cubans who will reveal their role in Venezuela.

    I'm describing this to you openly because I think that once they know this is coming down the road, they'll start figuring out how to fold and get out while the getting is good.

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  3. "The first problem is that Venezuela is much bigger than Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, or any European country. This is made worse as large parts of the country have no adequate transport system and that the existing one is in sorry shape."

    Doesn't matter. Vzla is Caracas, a few other small cities y el resto es monte y culebra. You control Miraflores and the top military, you control everything.

    You can't compare Vzla with Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan or Irak or Syria! The hatred against Maduro and Chavismo is up to 95% now, there are no 'guerillas' of feverish, nationalistic peasants, and certainly no Religious Fanaticism. Not even close.

    "The second problem is that any invasion would have logistics problems of its own coupled with nightmare logistics for a population that cannot produce today a survival level of food."

    Who said "Invasion"? It's a swift, brief yet strong Military Intervention we are talking about. In 2 weeks or less the head of the snake can be cut off, the Armed Forces controlled (80% against Chavismo, they say) then Gman and the opposition take over. Forget about invasions.. The Vzlan military would give up, run, switch sides in no time!

    "A third problem is that Venezuela is plagued with large areas controlled by Colombian guerillas who, contrarily to Venezuelan troops, know how to fight wars.." Well that's Vzla's problem, not the US's problem. They'll have to deal with it, just like Colombia always has.

    "The fourth problem is the denial of LatAm against any intervention on the grounds we can resolve issues ourselves when facts show otherwise." That's changing quickly, especially after what they saw this Saturday. Most politicians don't like to admit it, but a vast majority of the people, worldwide, realize that a military intervention is the only way out.

    "A fifth problem harder to evaluate is how tough is the paramilitary apparatus of the regime (colectivos and militia)."

    That's just paid mercenaries, malandros. No "apparatus". Once they stop getting paid, they will quickly dissolve back into the general Malandro population.

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  4. "Who said "Invasion"? It's a swift, brief yet strong Military Intervention we are talking about. In 2 weeks or less the head of the snake can be cut off...."

    Even if true, that will be a very hard sell to Americans since it is almost identical to the rhetoric used leading up to the US invasion of Iraq.

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    1. Politically, The Donald is screwed now. He ain't getting no wall, and is already knee-deep in Vzla. His re-election basically depends on the outcome in Vzla. As "Liberator", he's got the crucial Hispanic vote. Otherwise, it's back to "The Apprentice", ashamed, tail between the legs. Will all that Humanitarian Aid sit at the borders? Will Maduro's Thugs be in power come June or July, when the great USA accepts its failure? I doubt it.

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    2. I agree that Trump has an opportunity to help himself with Venezuela. But, will he take it? I am not in favor of using the slur "racist" against Trump, like many democrats do, ironically showing their own racist contempt for the white electorate that voted for him.

      But I have seen Trump's reaction after the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico.
      I saw that Trump IS resentful, not racist, but extremely resentful against latinos and their usual corrupt modus operandi. This resentment led him (and Congress as well) to show what can only by described as ungentelmanly behavior fashion vs Puerto Rico right after the island decided not to pay a single dollar of its 60B debt to bond holders (mostly retirees in the US) in the greatest securities ponzi scheme in the history of the US. That was evident after the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico both Congress and by Trump. For example, after the hurricanes the federal gvt has dedicated a huge package of incentives for the nation's areas in distress. However, the small print of the aid law barrs Puerto Rico from getting a single cent of this aid: only technology related industry that is already in operation can benefit from the aid package, all other industries, especially Puerto Rican industries --related to agriculture, or to rhum or spirits, or to tourism --are explicitly excluded. Knowing this to be the case, when it came to funding the wall, Trump immediately proposed taking Puerto Rico's portion of the aid package --that Puerto Rico cannot benefit from by design thanks to Congress-- and dedicate it to the wall's construction. Why did Congress and Trump treat Puerto Rico this way? Because latino in your face laugh all the way to the bank style corruption. Is it deserved? Well, nobody got punished in Puerto Rico, meanwhile gringo retirees who invested in Puerto Rico bonds will pay while Puerto Rico government pensioners get 100% of their pensions (the gvt is Puerto Rico's main employer by far). It was a raw deal for seniors in the US and very unfair if you ask me? Why are some seniors more deserving of their pensions than others?

      Venezuela = Puerto Rico, just larger. Add to this the fact that even if the US spends money and lives to push regime change in Venezuela, it will only be criticized later...by in usual hypocritical latino regimes in the OAS and even by the very beneficiaries: Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil etc. Look at what is happening at this very moment!

      Despite all of the above it IS very much in the interest of the US as a nation to push for regime change now in V. rather than later because later on it will be more expensive: after 5M more refugees cross the Colombian border skyrocketing the drug trade, the guerrilla war and Islamic terrorism. Will Trump have foresight despite his resentment? I doubt it, his resentment is rabid.

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  5. Rubio's tweet of Guaido next to a bloody Ghadaffi mugshot will harm his case more then help. The half-assed interventions in Libya, (and likewise Syria and Yemen) are not inspirational. The US needs to go all in or not at all, and the US Congress will not authorize an all in invasion.

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    1. See my comment above, I don't think it's wise to put US troops on the ground.

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    2. A few Apache Helicopters, a few hundred Marines, Seal team 6 in Miraflores y listo el pollo. 2 weeks. They'll run like turkeys. In and out, zero "invasion". Take El Burro. Cabello, Padrino, and a few more Narcos for the DEA. 2 weeks, tops. They've got 95% popular support and about 80% 'Fuelsas Almadas" support.

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  6. what about a russian style "liberation" similar to ukraine?

    Columbia, with covert support from the USA, is in a position to arm, supply and train "a volunteer local uprising" that should be easily able to topple Communications, Command & Control systems within the Venezuelan ruling party. USA has trained Columbia military & SpecOps to fight FARC and narcoterroristas, they just need to put on a "VZ Liberation Uniform" and do what they do best.

    The USA/CIA has abundant resources to blitz social media and tv with propaganda. Combine that with some "targeted" disappearances of the ruling party, and the rest will flee to Doral and Barcelona in hours.

    Not that difficult. Just need some cajones.

    The challenge will be similar to post-Saddam Iraq. Need to rapidly implement rule of law (and suppress collectivos)... if the army collapses, who is left?

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  7. Guyana should annex Venezuela.
    Solves the territory argument.
    Everyone in Venezuela would have to learn English so the populace would be busy.

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  8. It makes me sick to hear that allies if Venezuela's Guardo would strongly not support military intervention from the USA. If some communist/drug lord was taking control of Spain and the rightful constitutional gov't asked Allies for help then no one would have a problem. Which brings us to the case of Venezuala. Do these ally you tries truly believe and back Guardo or is it simply just a politic positioning against Maduro. As all are acting like Maduro is the rightful leader and military support requested by Guardo would not be correct.

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  9. Creo que tu no sabes mucho de milicia, por eso te asustan unos guerrileros de farc/eln y piensas que el tamano de un pais afecta una operacion militar.

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  10. I believe that the US will indirectly start arming a small Vzla. military force near a border with one of Vzla's neighboring countries. I just don't see Trump committing American troops to topple Maduro given Trump's dislike of foreign interventions.

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  11. Two observations. One why doesn't Guaido just say the aid is in these spots people come and get it. Have a few million people including military and collectivoes coming from the back side of the border crossings with free aid waiting on other side of any military resistance.
    Two why doesn't the USA take a page out of Russia's play book and ignore the threats from Russia and China as Russia does from the rest of the world, ignore the world opinion and supply any resistance with arms, support and use any military interference they want. Russia does this none stop around Asia as it sees fit and no one does anything about it.

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  12. When will people finally understand that the only way to kick the Chavista Pest out is by sheer FORCE? For numerous reasons, because they risk jail and don't believe in 'amnesty' promises, because they would lose their fortunes and have nowhere to hide. They don't like China or Russia in minter that much.. When will politicians and average people understand that? Perhaps in a few years, when Maduro's son is President with Delcy as VP?

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  13. Hi Daniel
    I was a regular follower on the comments section of Caracas Chronicles before they recently ended the comments section.
    I am an American with no connection to Venezuela other than a desire to try to ease some of the suffering that the Venezuelan people are enduring.
    I have been shipping supplies, including food and medicine to a circle of people that rely on my assistance to scrape by as conditions continue to deteriorate.
    Through Caracas Chronicles I was able to make contact with a man that has been working to help the people in his pueblo. Cooperatively we have established a sustainable seed program which is allowing the people to grow ever increasing amounts of vegetables.
    I would like to participate in your blog and I hope to learn from others with more knowledge of Venezuela.
    Thank You
    John

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    1. You are most welcome.

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    2. John v- Like you, I am an American with no connection to Venezuela until recently. I've been taking Spanish lessons online via Skype from a woman in Maracaibo, and have been made aware of the tremendous suffering of the people there due to lack of power, water, etc. I've been able to help her and her family some, but I would like to be able to help the people there in more substantial ways. You mentioned shipping supplies including food and medicine. I would be interested in how that works for you, since Maduro is not allowing in humanitarian aid?

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  14. Brazil is supporting Guaidó, but we are not to allow us troops in our country.

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