Small Wars Journal

The Circum-Caribbean (or Bolivarian-Grenadine) War

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 7:36pm

The Circum-Caribbean (or Bolivarian-Grenadine) War

Geoffrey Demarest

For fluidity, the text below refers to the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, their supporting institutions, allies, symbols, programs, and etcetera as Bolivarian.  Bolivarian is the formal self-designation of the currently governing system in Venezuela, which also often uses the terms ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ or ‘Bolivarian Socialism of the XXI Century’.  The paper refers to those in direct opposition to the Bolivarian structure and enterprise as Grenadine.  This latter identifier has not been formally adopted (or at least not to the author’s knowledge) and is taken from a colonial period name for the region of northern South America, Nueva Granada.

Classification of the decades-long war in Colombia as an insurgency or rebellion may have helped finesse the false notion that it has been a wholly internal matter.  Diplomatic conveniences notwithstanding, a look at the operational, financial, or logistic aspects of the warfare in Colombia (that is to say, at things just beyond the firefights, bombings, and kidnappings) confronts us with the reality of selectively interwoven borders, intercontinental supply lines, interventionist neighbors, and a world community that has as often as not enabled the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or the National Liberation Army (ELN) and disadvantaged the Colombian government.[1]  Descriptions of the international nature of Colombia’s war have remained muffled, but that is about to change.

Late last year, an anti-government resistance movement in Venezuela began expressing itself with noticeably increased physical vigor, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets.[2]  For some time, US security analysts had typically commented on what they saw as the challenge of Venezuela’s exporting revolution to its neighbors.[3]  That idea has been turned inside out.  Venezuela’s Bolivarian government (ally of the FARC, the communist regime in Cuba, and active as a component of the radical left Forum of Sao Paulo[4]) finds itself in a precarious position.  According to some regional analysts, the Bolivarian government will likely be changed-out by one means or another, and other than by a scheduled popular election.[5]  The Venezuelan internal opposition is ideologically heterogeneous and politically discordant.  While lack of unified vision or ultimate purpose seems to be a weakness, the very inability to ‘speak with one voice’ means that the movement is less likely to be effectively appeased or purchased at the top.  The Bolivarians might hope to arrange a negotiated settlement of some kind, but if no hierarchy of opposition leadership exists that can impel the active elements of the movement to calm themselves, then the argument for negotiations is specious.[6]  Beyond the simple problem of unified opposition leadership is the question of whether the Bolivarians could or would deliver what the opponents seek.[7]  The simple answer to that question is no.  No set of concessions is likely to ‘address the root causes of grievance’ short of the Venezuelan government’s ejecting all its Cuban advisors and resigning en masse.  The root-cause grievance is not a lack of toilet paper, high inflation, or collapsing hospital services, although these kinds of things may have helped spur the time line.[8]  The pivotal grievance is the politically influential presence of Cubans and, moreover, the fact of Bolivarian Socialism itself.[9]  Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. believed that force is the ultima ratio, and that between two groups of people who want to make inconsistent kinds of worlds, there is no remedy but force.[10]  It seems that the Venezuelans have arrived at the kind of impasse of which Holmes’ spoke.  In other words, the Venezuelans are not going to ‘hug it out’. [11]

The basic geography:  Perhaps the Santa Marta area on the north Colombian coast, which seems to be at the map epicenter of the conflict, serves as a suitably emblematic slice of terrain, a representative ecosystem of the larger conflict.  There, the twin peaks of Christopher Columbus and Simon Bolivar rise to over 18, 700 feet within less than thirty miles of the Caribbean coast.  Nearby is the county (municipio) of Aracataca, birthplace of and inspiration for recently deceased Nobel author and friend of Fidel Castro, Gabriel García Márquez.[12]  Close by to the northwest of the mountains are the lowland banana plantations and Ciénaga Grande, the scene of a 1928 labor massacre that has become an iconic event for the activist left.  Not far to the north is the city of Santa Marta.  To the east, on the other side of the mountains is the Cesar River valley.  Down that valley runs a major rail line that carries coal to the northern coast.  Not much further to the east is the smuggling center of Maicao, near the Venezuelan border.  Mountains, desert, jungles, plantations, rivers, extracted resource movement, illicit cultivation, smuggling culture, public lands, an international boundary, sea, city, and political iconography -- all in close proximity.  In addition, there are few international borders in the world that can boast a greater differential in the going retail prices for a basic commodity like gasoline.  It is not as though one cannot find something to fight over.  The geography that the Santa Marta area typifies is highly favorable to smugglers and guerrillas.  It is beautiful terrain, both to the eye and for irregular warfare.

The Ledger of Competitors

The Colombian Government.  The Colombians completed a presidential election cycle on June 15, reelecting President Manuel Santos.  We can suppose that as a consequence of his victory the peace negotiations being conducted by the FARC since late 2012 will proceed for at least a while longer.  The downstream effect of the Santos presidential victory on the progress and outcome of the Circum-Caribbean (or perhaps Grenadine-Bolivarian) War is less certain.  Most probably, however, the Santos victory favors the continued survival of the Bolivarian regime in Venezuela.  The Cubans (hosting the FARC negotiations), the FARC, and the Venezuelan regime are all Bolivarian socialists of common dedication.  It appears to be current Colombian government policy to remain at least subtle at the diplomatic level regarding the upheaval in Venezuela in order to give the possibility of a Colombian government accord with the FARC the greatest amount of oxygen.  In other words, President Santos has chosen to follow a policy of alleviative or patient rhetoric regarding the Venezuela situation, and so it seems that the Bolivarian regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been favored by the Santos victory in Colombia.  The Santos policy toward the FARC (and therefore toward the Venezuelan regime) has been met with some harsh criticism from within Colombia.[13]  Hundreds of thousands of Colombian families are bi-national to one degree or another and many Colombians are expressly disappointed in the failure of President Santos to pronounce in favor of the Venezuelan anti-government movement.  While an incumbent victory in the Colombian presidential elections may have prolonged the agony of the Maduro regime, it has not, in this author’s opinion, changed the ultimate political outcome in Venezuela.

The Colombian Armed Forces.  Listing the Colombian military separately from the Colombian government exaggerates the idea that Colombian military leaders would make choices independently of the Colombian government’s elected civilian leadership.  This is not the case.  However, the Colombian military has traditionally and for the most part within the confines of the constitution maintained some independence, or has strongly influenced the decision-making of elected leaders.  The Colombian military institution is more easily motivated to oppose the FARC and its Bolivarian allies in combat than it is to support an agreement with the FARC, especially if the latter entails some form of concessions regarding control over rural land.[14]  The Colombian armed forces are one of the three or four most effective in the hemisphere.  Worldwide, perhaps only the United States Army can boast more experienced combat leaders.  As a result of that extensive combat experience, however, Colombia’s military leaders understand the dramatic effect that their geography (risk-distances and scale) have on military power.  Colombia’s military understands that the FARC’s and ELN’s cross-border sanctuaries in Venezuela and Ecuador are, barring an extraordinary change of circumstances, beyond their culminating point, that is, too far away to prudently reach with direct military action.  On the other hand, it is to be assumed that the Colombian military has maintained considerable contact with members, retired and active, pre-Chávez and post-Chávez, within the Venezuelan armed forces.  The two national forces can hardly be considered natural enemies, affinities far outweighing animosities.  Moreover, the Colombian military will have to react to facts on the ground, and that reaction that will to some extent force decisions from Colombian civilian political leadership.  For instance, if a flow of Venezuelan refugees were to accelerate, the Colombian unit commanders would be obliged to protect those flows.

The FARC.  The FARC may already be losing as a result of the internal stress accelerating in Venezuela.  The political negotiations that the FARC has been conducting in Havana with the Colombian government have been going on since at least late 2012.  According to some accounts, they are progressing.[15]  The talks do not appear to be popular with the majority of the Colombian people and less so as Venezuela’s collapse progresses.  It is difficult to separate the Colombian public’s impression of the FARC from the impression it has of the rest of the Bolivarian elements.  To be negotiating with the enemies of Venezuela’s students is becoming an increasingly visible and ugly incongruence in the Colombian government’s policies.  Open Bolivarian socialism has had minor electoral success inside Colombia, and it is evident from pronouncements coming out of Havana in the aura of the FARC negotiations that the Bolivarian movement sees the FARC peace process as a political advancement.[16]

Innumerable analyses purport to explain why Colombia’s ‘internal’ war has lasted for decades.  Of all the available explanations, the one that this observer finds most plausible and weighty highlights the ability of the FARC to maintain physical sanctuaries in neighboring countries.  Put another way, the Colombian military has not been able to successfully pursue FARC leaders and close those sanctuaries.  The existence of guerrilla refuges across Colombia’s international borders, and especially inside Venezuela, is a columnar reason why the Colombian war persists.[17]  With the ideological tables turned, and the leftist government of Venezuela under internal siege, FARC sanctuaries might become increasingly exposed, and FARC senior leaders may have to escape to more distant lands.

The Venezuelan Bolivarian Government.  The Venezuelan government presided by Nicolás Maduro and the Cuban regime fit comfortably into the same Bolivarian basket for purposes of most analysis, supposing that in terms of decision-making they are in lock step.  This assumption might be a significant analytical error in view of the choices potentially facing many Venezuelan government officials in comparison to Cuban officials of similar rank.  The less committed Bolivarians may face the relatively attractive option (especially if they cannot emigrate) to express contrition, collaborate, and make amends with the opposition if the latter appears on the verge of successfully ousting the Bolivarians from power.  Venezuelan Bolivarians might successfully change flags, tell where the money is buried and survive peaceably within Venezuela.  Venezuela does not feature the kind of profound barriers to reconciliation seen in some parts of the world, especially those plagued by religious intransigencies.  Whatever government comes to displace the Bolivarian regime, there will exist for most Venezuelans an interest in compromise and reconciliation.  The most senior or invested Venezuelan Bolivarians, however, will be under extreme pressure from the Cubans to hold firm in support of the Revolution.  They concomitantly will be the least likely to come to agreeable terms with the Grenadines.

The Venezuelan Armed Forces.  On 29 April, an active duty captain in the National Guard, Juan Carlos Cagüaripano Scott, made an articulate, unequivocal expression of opposition to the Bolivarian government.[18]  With time, it may be seen as a pivotal public call to mutiny within the Venezuelan Armed Forces.  That is to say, it may have been a Chávez-1992-like event, although, militarily-speaking, Captain Cagüaripano may have been more militarily competent in his actions than was Hugo Chávez, if less charismatic.  It appeared that Captain Cagüaripano did not release the video before having secured an escape route or enough physical support to require a significant marshalling of force on the part of the government to go arrest him.  The captain’s pronouncement came after the government had announced earlier in the month that some thirty military officers had been arrested.[19]  Sizeable portions of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, while unlikely to conduct a coup d’état recognizable as such, might refuse to participate in administering the level of repression necessary to keep the current government in power.[20]  Earlier in April, before the mass arrest, a senior Bolivarian general had assured that the military would act to retain President Maduro in power.[21]  A loyalist, the general made the suggestion that there might be ten, twenty, or even thirty mutinous officers, and that such were trivial numbers.  His shrug, which in hindsight appears to have been a gesture to prepare the public for the subsequent arrests, could not help but come across as an admission that severe cracks had been forming in the unity of the armed forces.

Beyond simply not participating in the repression of civilian protesters, significant portions of the Venezuelan Armed Forces might begin to withdraw to Colombia.  If welcomed, they could then reform into a Venezuelan armed force in exile, and perhaps contribute joint Colombian-Venezuelan (Grenadine) units.  While at first that force might opt to not return to fight against the Bolivarians inside Venezuela, in order to avoid fratricide, such a posture could change quickly if violence were to expand within Venezuela.  The option of forming a Grenadine task force could be compelled morally by the plight into which the Venezuelan student population might plunge itself.  In this observers estimation, much if not most of the elements of the Bolivarian military will remain in place and loyal to the current government.  Venezuela has received modern armaments from abroad, especially from Russia, and will maintain a capability to challenge and harm interventionist units, although armed confrontations are likely to break out sooner against what we would hardly recognize as invasion columns.[22]  Various border crossing points between Venezuela and Colombia are likely venues for firefights, often between nationally hybridized forces on both sides.[23]  These may occur in relation to the movement of contraband items, refugees or to stop the infiltration of guerrilla units into one country or the other.

The Venezuelan Opposition.  When one compares the demographic scale of the Colombian leftist insurgency (represented by the FARC and ELN) to the incipient uprising in Venezuela, the numbers speak loudly.  For instance, the FARC has perhaps 10,000 active armed members out of a total population that now exceeds 45 million, the ELN perhaps a third of that number.  If we are generous in our math, and suppose that the leftist guerrillas either control or enjoys the willing support of 400,000 Colombians (a number that far exceeds anyone’s count, including by the FARC) it would not amount to one percent of the Colombian population.  That miniscule percentage is nevertheless the measure of enough popular support (within the mix of other factors) to have netted the FARC’s top leaders sufficient leverage that they are negotiating for political power-sharing, a grant of impunity, and effective ownership of rural lands complete with share-croppers.  In Venezuela, by comparison, active opposition to the government, although not as organized as the Colombian FARC, could easily reach into the millions of persons, that is, many times the size of the FARC’s support  relative to total national population.[24]  More importantly, the FARC has presided over a criminal enterprise that has planted hundreds of thousands of land mines, kidnapped thousands of citizens, destroyed vast areas of pristine ecology, sabotaged billions of dollars of infrastructure, and accumulated vast wealth on the basis of the cocaine trade, cattle rustling, and a full gamut of other predatory methods.  The FARC built political strength by combining a small amount of ideological justification with an immane capacity to inflict pain.  The FARC route to power was by way of strategic extortion.  The Venezuelan opposition movement is rested upon ideological principal and on non-violent action, although the use of mortal force may soon grow.

Energy within the Venezuelan opposition comes from the student population.  Campuses in Latin America have always been places of government leniency and free speech.  They are sanctuaries wherein people can meet and conspire.  That the wave of conspiratorial conversation should expand against a socialist government presents a conundrum for leftists, to be sure.  In the case of Venezuela, the danger to the government posed by the student uprising is doubled by the fact that so many parents of the riot-prone students support their behavior.  The danger is then redoubled by having so many relatives with financial means living in exile.  The Venezuelan exile population, the majority of which are in Colombia, the United States and Spain, do not wish to suffer the never-to-return fate of the Cuban Diaspora.  Venezuelan exiles are intensely aware and supportive of the student families.  Add to this an array of former personnel from the pre-Chávez security institutions who were purged by the Bolivarian government.  Living in exile in various countries of the region, not so much time has passed that they have lost their contact networks or organizational skills.  In short, the Venezuelan opposition is growing in power and has a deep bench of human resources on which to draw.  While it does not have the huge disposable income that control of the oil flow gives to the Bolivarians, the opposition can trade on the prospects of future control of that same resource.  Opposition activists will enjoy sanctuary within Venezuelan borders in the bosom of millions of family homes, outside Venezuela among Colombian and Colombian-Venezuelan families, and beyond the region among the tens of thousands of Venezuelan exiles.

The Cuban Government.  No organized political entity, to include insiders of the Venezuelan Bolivarian regime, are as invested in the outcome of the Circum-Caribbean War as is the Cuban communist party vanguard, to include the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party and the Cuban intelligence service, MININT.  For these Cuban Bolivarians (whose enterprise is alternatively describable as Bolivarianism, Castroism or just ‘the Revolution’), losing the war would greatly weaken their exercise of power on and off the island.  The Cuban economy, thin in any case, would suffer dramatically if it were to lose control of Venezuelan oil subsidies.[25]  Perhaps even more important to the Cuban Bolivarians is the probable loss of influence on the direction of the socialist movement in the hemisphere .  If the Bolivarians lose this war, the lead of Castroism will likely fade, and just at the end of the lives of the Castros themselves.  In their role as influencers off the island, the Cubans enjoy the weight of their revolutionary legacy and also the advantages that a common regional language affords.  Cubans are nevertheless easily identifiable as such.  Distance diminishes power, and although close to South America physically and culturally, the Cuban must nevertheless travel and is a foreigner in foreign lands.  ‘Yankee Go Home’ is an aging cliché, whereas ‘Cubanos Fuera’ is a reverberating challenge.  The outcome of the Circum-Caribbean war for the Cubans depends in considerable measure on the outcome of internal unrest in Venezuela; the future of protests there is of existential importance to the Cuban communist party.

If it appears that Venezuela is about to be lost to them, senior Cuban officials who find themselves physically present on the continent in Venezuela can in a pinch withdraw back to Cuba.  The Cuban regime would also in all likelihood offer asylum to some of the more senior Venezuelan officials, including members of the Venezuelan communist party.  Lesser-ranking Cuban Bolivarians may take the civil unrest as an opportunity to emigrate elsewhere to seek asylum, including to the United States.  Nevertheless, from the perspective of current senior Bolivarian leaders throughout the system, this is a war that must be won.  For the institutions tied to the Revolution, the loss of Bolivarian control on the continent will mean financial disaster.

China.  The Chinese government, together with large Chinese firms, have made commercial inroads in the Caribbean and northern South America in recent years.  Distances, both physical and cultural, appear such that direct Chinese managerial or military presence is not likely to become a visible factor in the war.  However, because of the distribution of Chinese financial investments, and the general method of making those investments, major Chinese firms and the Chinese government are simultaneously attracted to Bolivarian socialist governments and stand to lose a great deal depending on the war’s outcome.[26]  The Chinese have tended to seek relationships with senior government leadership, focusing on countries where the combination of ideological tendencies and needed resources offered accelerated access and greatest potential payoff.  Simply put, Chinese financial interests expanded more rapidly and on a greater scale in Venezuela than in other places, and are also prominent in Nicaragua and perhaps Cuba.[27]  Chinese interest in Latin America is based on the obvious -- natural resources and markets.

The Chinese seem to have calculated the risk of successful rebellion in Venezuela to be low enough to ratify their commitments to their relationship with the current regime.  The Chinese are apparently betting that the Maduro administration with its Cuban mentors will succeed in quashing effective dissent.  They also seem to have accepted the Cuban regime’s assurances that the island’s power transition upon the death and or retirement of the Castro brothers has been paved, and that there will not be a serious discontinuity.  One might reasonably speculate that the Chinese government would aid in assuring that such outcomes do in fact occur, perhaps through financial or technical assistance to specific Cuban leadership slices, to the Cuban MININT, in the form of loans to the Maduro regime, as well perhaps as in the form of diplomatic encouragement for the use of repressive measures against the Grenadines generally.  Physical Chinese presence, however, is likely to be very low key.

Brazil.  Brazil has a large, tough, capable infantry army that could shift the correlation of force in favor of either side.  By intervening, Brazil could not only displace United States influence in the region, it could grab away from Cuba much its control over the Venezuelan oil treasure.  Such an adventure, if successful, could go a long way to fulfill a Brazilian national self-concept as a world power.  The current Brazilian administration shares ideological branding and heritage with the Latin American far left, that is, with the Bolivarians.  President Vilma Rousseff, like her predecessor President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (who was a founder of the Forum of Sao Paulo) are openly sympathetic to much of the progressive social and economical narrative of Cuban socialism.   However, even these Brazilian leaders seem to reject the specific contraptions of Cuban and Venezuelan political control.  Brazilian foreign policy has often seemed more nationalistic and geostrategic than ideological, and was at no point swayed by the notion that Hugo Chávez or the Castros were the natural leaders of the regional progressive bloc.

Brazil does not have the military logistic experience or infrastructure to give it great confidence in the success of a large expeditionary force if that force had to deploy against resistance.  Although Brazil fills much of the South American continent, a look at the map is enough to remind that ‘right-next-door’ to Venezuela and Colombia also means across an immense jungle-expanse.  Lines of communication could follow the Amazon basin river courses, but once deployed out of the Amazon basin and into that of the Orinoco, Brazilian units would strain for logistical support.  Except for smaller formations, movement of Brazilian military force into the Grenadine-Bolivarian fray appears constrained to un- or lightly opposed deployments onto the Venezuelan coast.  Unless Brazil were to start preparing its logistic infrastructure immediately (perhaps for deployments a year or two hence), the perils of tenuous, expensive lines of communication will probably dissuade it from active participation in the war.  To enter on the side of the Bolivarians, a move which would not be universally popular among the Brazilian electorate, Brazil would have to be invited in by the Cuban/Venezuelan Bolivarians.  Such an invitation would necessarily mean power sharing, a concession the Cubans would only make if the situation appeared to be in extremis.

On the other hand, Brazil could make an opposite decision -- to intervene on behalf of the Grenadines, perhaps as part of a regional multi-national force.  Such a decision would be more likely taken if, as this author believes will occur, it comes to appear that the future of the current Bolivarian regime in Venezuela is utterly bleak.  Brazil (again depending on a number of internal political outcomes) could then tip the balance, accelerate the arrival of a new stasis, and participate in the design of the follow-on political order in Venezuela.  Brazil would thus avoid a potential costly geopolitical confrontation with other powers, displace Cuban control of Venezuelan oil, and displace some of United States’ regional influence.  If the Brazilians anticipate a long expensive slog, they will likely stay at home.  If they see an opportunity to exercise military presence, assert the nation as a competent military power and do so at a low risk of failure and high potential return, count on the presence of Brazilian elements somewhere inside Venezuela, at least for a short period of time.  As with many countries, Brazil has prepared special operating forces that could be used to tip the balance locally if the Brazilians were to sense the right opportunities.

The Brazilians may conclude that if the Grenadines secure the government of Venezuela away from the Bolivarians, the economy of Venezuela would return to a healthier state, oil production increase, and regional international relations become less erratic and more responsive to Brazilian leadership.  Regardless of the ideological coloring of the next president, active Brazilian participation in the Circum-Caribbean War might favor free market policies (and so favor Colombia and the Grenadines) as part of a Brazilian preference for a robust economy and a broader alliance with the United States.  At the current time, the Brazilian military is marginally involved in domestic electoral matters.  Still, the prospect of a glorious military expedition, with its attendant patriotic energy, should not be discounted as a possible, minor electoral factor.  On the other hand, the risks of such a martial enterprise should warn strategists to stay away from enthusiasm for a military adventure that might have unpredictable and negative consequences.  At any rate, by the time any new Brazilian administration takes possession, the war between Grenadines and Bolivarians may have reached a new scale and new definition.

Some Challenging Phenomena Likely to Unfold

A whole Pandora’s boxful of unpleasantnesses can occur within the next two years if the Circum-Caribbean war unfolds as suggested above.  A small selection of the unpleasantness follows.

Gene Sharpist Convocation.  In the last several decades, opposition groups worldwide have recurred to the strategies of non-violent action catalogued by Gene Sharp.[28]  The techniques of non-violent action offer a potentially effective strategy for bringing down tyrannical state apparatuses.  The Maduro administration in Venezuela has lately denounced what it sees as the smoking gun of conspiracy -- communications of leading opposition intellectuals with Gene Sharp.[29]  There is little doubt about the potential for effecting political change by combining enthusiastic mass street participations with calculating leadership.[30]  The ability to convoke, that is, to draw crowds together, is well recognized in South America as a significant political power.  In just the last decade or so, however, the power of mass convocation seems greatly to have shifted away from the ideological left.  In January 2008, using Facebook, Óscar Morales and a small group of students in Barranquilla, Colombia called for a march against kidnapping.  The result was a protest demonstration by more than four million persons against the practice of kidnapping, and, by association, against the leftist revolutionaries, an odd event given that mass action was supposed to be the purview of popular leftist movements.  The potential of mass convocation as a realizable tool of resistance could not help but infect imaginations in Venezuela next door.  The Bolivarian left currently in power in Venezuela correctly fears the power of convocation as wielded by the student opposition.  The Bolivarians have taken measures to shut down, purchase or co-opt as many news outlets and as many links to the Internet as possible.  The prevalence of cell phones, blogs, and then Twitter out-paced, for a while at least, Bolivarian efforts to limit the speed and scale of the convocational power lent to the opposition by use of the new technologies.  The gradual restriction of the press and of social media by the Venezuelan government may have added to the sense of urgency on the part of the opposition and so may have accelerated the timeline of active resistance.

Infrastructure Collapse.  Venezuela’s electric power grid is not so redundant that it can survive a major social upheaval intact.  Huge hydroelectric generation plants like Guri Dam on the Caroni River are hardly easy targets for sabotage, or are they suitably located as targets for mass non-violent action, but the system of substations is not well hardened.  Irrespective of sabotage, however, we can anticipate a crippling effect on the Venezuelan economic and political fabric from forgone physical maintenance.[31]  Organized work stoppages, absenteeism and voluntary exile can feed refugee flows.  If, for instance, five individuals who are essential to power line maintenance in a local area decide to flee to Colombia, the Venezuelan power grid in the area could grind down as surely as if the system were targeted with kinetic weaponry.  A number of Venezuelan cities are less dependent on the main power grid than is Caracas, to be sure, and the oil production infrastructure enjoys a more robust and redundant feeding of electric power.  Nevertheless, any extensive blackouts suffered in Caracas will have a secondary effect on outlying and even distant places as families escape to other parts of their families.  Venezuela as a whole, or Colombia for that matter, will not witness extended Caracas blackouts without having to participate in the suffering.  Venezuela has had a considerable amount of banked wealth of all kinds.  It has been able to withstand a great deal of economic and technical mismanagement, as well as involuntary redistributions of wealth.  The outer limits of that resilience may be on the horizon.

Refugees and Displaced Persons.  Colombia is used to large numbers of internally displaced persons, but the movement of people in and from Venezuela will be a little different.  The institutional infrastructure that has grown within Colombia to handle internally displaced persons does not have the appropriate geographic footprint to handle a flow that will be mostly one way from Venezuela.  Colombia can receive the Venezuelans, without a doubt, much of the flow absorbed by dual citizenship families and border communities.  However, the refugees are likely to have an ideological tendency opposed to the current Venezuelan regime, and the overall flow of refugees is likely to further segregate itself along ideological lines.  Such ideological identification will matter operationally as it will translate into targeting and recruiting, and to some degree define the sources and recipients of NGO aid support.  The region is by and large one of food abundance, but lives seasonal shortages.  Also, perhaps due to the rentier nature of its economy and integration into international markets, Venezuela became a net importer of foodstuffs, the distribution of which is dependent on the functioning of both internal and external transport routes.  Venezuela does not enjoy a self-sustainable economy and will not be independently able to feed a huge displaced population.

Prison Breaks and Catastrophes.  Many observers consider that the prisons in South America are already in crisis, irrespective of an irregular war exploding around them.[32]  Several prisons in Venezuela and Colombia have in recent years been the scenes of fatal riots and jailbreaks.  Even a modest reduction of warden to inmate correlations could provoke an increase in system disruptions to which prison authorities would be increasingly less able to respond.  Escapees would enter an environment in which the capacity of the authorities to re-capture them had been all but forfeited.  It is reasonable to assume that a sizeable number of escapees (accidental and otherwise) will find their way into armed groups of one flag or another.  Add to this the inevitable number of newly-taken prisoners from both the Bolivarians and then Grenadines if the latter should achieve any territorial dominance.  Inevitably, many of these new captives, mostly young men, will be tagged as delinquents and criminals irrespective of the natures of their alleged offenses or their states of mind.  The mixture of standard delinquent felons with the politically motivated will yield a crossover in which many of the criminally minded seek political identity and the politically motivated are drawn into criminal behaviors and allegiances.

Kidnapping.  Kidnapping has advanced as a criminal and political phenomenon to the detriment of civilization in the last 3 decades.  In terms of numbers of victims, ransoms paid and impunity secured, much of that advancement in the Western Hemisphere can be credited to the FARC.  Capture tactics, inventory maintenance practices, tradecraft for negotiation, communications technologies, outsourcing  -- the full-stream aspects of the business model for start-up and industrial scale kidnapping can reasonably be traced to northern South America and to violent FARC entrepreneurs.   Today, the subject is covered by the media when a particularly well-known person or perhaps a newsperson is kidnapped, or the number of victims is unusually high, but otherwise kidnapping events have become so common as to no longer constitute news.  Kidnapping is perhaps the most basic extortion, the most powerful and poignant protection racket.  Geographically speaking, it is a racket that depends for its sustainability on the creation and maintenance of clandestine routes and sanctuaries.  A supremely violent device, it is used strategically to put pressure on as many decision points as capacity will allow.  For instance, it might not be practicable to kidnap the Governor’s daughter, but rather to kidnap the governor’s niece, or the daughters of two of the Governor’s most important campaign contributors.  The capacity to continue kidnapping such persons, even if ransom prices do not break even with overhead, can have a salutary (from the point of view of the kidnappers) effect on executive decision making.  The wielder of the technique might not ask for the most obvious payments.  Perhaps instead of a prisoner release, which might reveal too well the quid-pro-quo submission, the payment request might simply include favorable appointment consideration for a particular aspirant to a judicial position.  It is widely believed that the vast majority of kidnappings are not reported, and since the majority of high value kidnappings in the northern Andes region are attributed to large criminal organizations, especially the FARC, we can reasonably assert that the great majority of FARC kidnappings are successful.  How many of them are successful in the direct inducement of political advantage is to be surmised. 

In confronting kidnapping, strategically speaking, the phenomenon should perhaps not be considered as a series or composite of events to which we might have to react.  Although effective reaction to even a single kidnapping may require the mobilizations of significant assets, viewing the challenge in that manner might be to surrender the initiative at the outset of our competitive designs.[33]   We might incur greater strategic damage not so much from the kidnappings about which we are made aware, but rather from the ones that are kept secret from us.  Rarely will the grabbers, the custodians, or the ransom interlocutors be the masterminds of the strategic price.  For all the events to which we might react, it is the kidnapper- strategist who determines the overall objective and has the capacity to transform iterative criminal actions into political and geopolitical advantage.  It seems, in this light, that the decisive way to address the kidnapping is to neutralize the strategists -- to kill the intellectual authorship.  This is not to suggest that it is unwise to take preventive measures to secure the most valuable objects of extortion.  It is hard to imagine a broad imposition of security measures, however well intended they would be to reduce the incidence of kidnapping, that would not inherently diminish personal liberties and in the process further a psychology of fear.  Sometimes the conversation about kidnapping and executive decision-making revolves around the use of force in hostage recovery -- should we or should we not negotiate with kidnappers.  Skipping over that debate, the ultimate solution to kidnapping as a strategic phenomenon is to eliminate the kidnapper masterminds as soon as possible.  The other debates are valid as tactical matters, but they do not get to the essence -- to the violently-imposed assertion of domination and the resulting submission to it.

Confusion and Chaos in NGOs and IOs.  The entire context of a progressive government being opposed by a liberal, free-market insurgency led by students and backed by millions of citizens is a mission-boggler for many NGO’s, especially those ostensibly dedicated to human and political rights but backed by left-progressive money flows.  For many casual observers, the dilemmas faced by these organizations will be an amusement, but on the ground, ideological inconsistencies and changes of position will fuel vendettas and material waste.[34]  Many of the NGOs are tied into regional IOs as advisory bodies.  As part of the Bolivarian strategy to assure continuity of power and to further revolutionary objectives, Hugo Chavez secured the diplomatic vassalage of numerous countries in the region through the use of crude oil incentives.[35]  The Organization of American States might at an earlier point in its history have served as a moral voice against tyrannical governance, and perhaps that role might return to it someday.  After attainment of the reins of national government power by the Bolivarians, however, the Venezuelan administration, with the help of other Forum of Sao Paulo members, skillfully restructured the network of hemispheric regional organizations, especially the OAS, in its favor.  The Forum also moved to weaken human rights-oriented voices within the OAS.[36]  CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) is a new Latin America international organization of government membership (unlike the Forum of Sao Paulo, which his political party-based).  Inspired and led by the region’s radical left, CELAC excludes membership of the United States and Canada.  At its recent summit, held in Havana this January, CELAC, which has greatly displaced the OAS, formally took up the question of the Puerto Rican revolutionary independence movement.  The CELAC membership voted down a measure that would have admitted Puerto Rican independence organizations as members of CELAC.[37]  Although not willing to take that step, the organization moved in the direction of openly promoting Puerto Rican independence by establishing formal committees charged with studying ways to support those organizations.[38]  It is worth noting that the Puerto Rican organizations CELAC founders wish to enliven have little power of convocation on the island of Puerto Rico.  They are not likely to succeed at gaining power via Gene Sharpesque concentrations of mass.  Theirs is a violent extortionate preference.

Motorcycles.  This is a motorcycle part of the world.  That technology bespeaks the scale and number of effective escape routes in difficult terrain, but, especially in Venezuela, it seems to have accelerated an old revolutionary format.  Colectivo or ‘collective’ is a current term applied to what is not exactly a gang, not exactly a military unit, and not exactly a militia.[39] Imagine the activation of a cell phone contact tree in which, among the immediately available and willing respondents, are three union leaders, two officers from the national police, four party activists, and half a dozen neighborhood wannabees or lackeys.  Most own their own cycles, although perhaps the party members, union leaders and police were all able to acquire theirs through special deals.  Some of the bikes are medium weight highway rockets, several are 180-240cc hybrid street/all terrain bikes, one or two are motocross cycles, and the rest are inexpensive city bikes.  Most of the members know the drill.  They are given a marshalling point and an alternative.  They meet up and when the leader surveys the strength of his ad-hoc unit, he gives a mission order and one or two routes of arrival at the objective, which perhaps is a barrier being manned by some protesters.  The mission will be to ride up, dismount, pick off a few of the demonstrators for physical beating and remount.  The leader will assign some of the wannabees to watch the cycles while the dismounted thug-cavalry does its job and returns to the bikes.  In special cases, the leader might have at his disposal an overwatch capability provided by a sniper, or, alternatively, the sniper’s may be the main mission, which is to take out a high value target among the protesters while the thug-cavalry creates a diversion.  At the marshalling point, the thug-cavalry leader may also have established rally points, designated a reserve force, and explained in what direction they will evacuate any wounded.   He may also designate alternative targets, and instruct that if certain information can be gained at the first objective, they will act on it immediately.  Perhaps this will mean taking any personal identification off identified protesters and then having part of the colectivo descend on that protestor’s residence to trash it or beat up family members.  Mission concept: home-deliver the pain.  It is not a new concept or new form of struggle.  Although the ubiquitous smart phones lend a ‘cyber’ dimension, this is not a case in which geography ceases to matter.  The phones and cycles simply expand geographic scale and decrease planning and reaction times.  The physical technologies allow greater dispersion of fighters before they are assembled for action and after objectives are achieved.  The Bolivarians can be credited with matching appropriate organizational innovations to the physical technologies.  With the requisite leadership and morale to act forcefully, they turn what might otherwise favor political resistance into a novel repressive phenomenon.  The counters are fairly obvious -- barbed wire barriers, phone calls home, cul-de-sac traps.  The bike battles are quickly cycling through adjustments and counter adjustments, but the phenomenon is likely to spread from Venezuela throughout the region.

Roadblocks.  Roadblocking has long been a hallmark activity of the activist left in Latin America.  It has developed as a staple of irregular warfare practice for everyone.[40]  In Venezuela, the student protesters especially have taken to building barricades across urban thoroughfares and to seal off neighborhoods.  These uses lead inevitably to more carefully planned, timed, and cross-supported strategic application of the method.  Roadblocking can be fine-tuned in relation to the time it takes government forces to arrive on location with enough weight to confront and clear the barriers.  They constitute, in their coordinated application, a key to frustrating the motorcycle-mounted colectivos, to the extent these latter can be made to chase ineffectually from one location to another.  Bolivarian military officers have already made the public accusation that Colombian paramilitary groups are teaching roadblock techniques to Venezuelan protesters.[41]

Cross-border Military and Paramilitary Operations.  A number of venues may experience some form of ‘invasion’ in various degrees recognizable as such.  For instance, Colombia’s San Andres Islands might suffer some Nicaraguan adventurism.  The Nicaraguan purpose would be to combine a display of solidarity as a Bolivarian partner with a diversionary event that might invite the reassignment of some Colombian military assets or disorient international attention.  Puerto Rico might become the scene of some similar Bolivarian exercise, perhaps using Puerto Rican radical separatist organizations associated with the Forum of Sao Paulo.[42]  It probably behooves these organizations to enter the fray to the extent risks allow, given that a victory by the Grenadines could severely reduce the international support that these Puerto Rican independence groups currently receive.

The Venezuelan government, with potential participation from other Bolivarian volunteers, could mount a limited number of special operations within Colombia and elsewhere in the region.  While possibly given help by the Cubans, and maybe even indirectly from the Russians, in balance such raids will be ineffectual and costly.  Colombia’s power grid and economy generally are more redundant and diverse than in Venezuela.  In addition, the many years of internal warfare in Colombia has left a security apparatus and population fairly alert to the movement of armed groups.  The safest terrain in Colombia for the purposes of effecting economic disruption would be found in difficult terrain wherein local knowledge is imperative.  Although Colombia suffers some radical internal ideological opposition, it is hard to imagine that a significant portion of the Colombian population is going to side with the Bolivarians.  Exceptions may be found in a few of the border areas where the FARC has proposed Peasant Reservation Zones.[43]  The ‘Catatumbo,’ might be one of these, which could also be an immediate staging area for Grenadine troop units.  Venezuelan military sources claim that Colombian paramilitary groups are already marshalling along the international border waiting for the internal situation in Venezuela to worsen so that they can enter Venezuealan territory.[44]

Colombia has a population almost twice that of Venezuela, but in terms of soldiers and commanders with actual combat experience, the difference is probably beyond 50:1.  Colombia is a war-toughened country.  The Colombian army could train, arm and marshal huge formations of young men who would quietly suffer long marches and then kill.  Bolivarian air power, in turn, might be able to do considerable damage to Grenadine units, but readiness of combat air assets may have deteriorated in recent years, and the loyalty of many pilots to the Bolivarian regime is reasonably suspect.  Foreign support to airpower, either to the Bolivarians or to Grenadines, may become an attractive financial if not diplomatic proposition.  Foreign materiel and training intervention might be perceived as a relatively economic tool for influencing the outcome of the war, carrying with it the usual financial incentives for weapons providers.  Airpower assistance especially could, depending on military developments on the ground, accelerate or delay the political outcome.

Expropriation and Restitution.  The Bolivarian government will respond to an outflow of middle class families with the expropriation of their meager properties.  These will be backfilled by stay-behind supporters of the regime.  Venezuelan refugees, however, are likely to maintain records of ownership and will expect restitution upon return.  In many locales, from rural agricultural to urban, large numbers of eviction-restitution- relocation challenges will confront future authorities.  To these home disputes add claims for restitution of farms and industries nationalized by the Bolivarian government as part of its decade-long process of socialization.

Common Unmarked Graves.  Finding unmarked common gravesites will tax government forces, or at least the Colombian government forces and its allies, as these will be charged with identifying, processing and properly administering the disposition of remains.[45]  It is an expensive, time-consuming task the poignancy of which makes it susceptible to propagandistic abuse.  As this phenomenon is not new to the Colombian military or to the Colombian public, there also exists a public emotional upside if the military can demonstrate meticulous and respectful care of human remains and respect for families of the deceased.

Prediction of Results Including Winners and Losers.

The irregular war now underway in the circum-Caribbean, replete with unique and challenging phenomena, resolute and dithering actors, and commercially valuable prizes, is likely to arrive at a new political stasis within about 4 years give or take two.  Victory for one side or the other is by no means certain, but in any case will be clearly identifiable as such.  The winners within Venezuela will gain control of oil production, export and contracting capacity, will be recognized for representation to international forums and bodies, will take over the keys to Venezuelan banking and taxing authority, and will arrange the fealty of the national armed forces.  With or without heating-up (meaning, say, cross-border movements of troop formations of larger than platoon size), the Grenadines will win and the Bolivarians will lose.  The opposition inside Venezuela will have successfully ousted the Maduro regime and most of the Bolivarian Cubans along with it.  Venezuela has entered a period of economic implosion and ideological disillusion.  Perhaps as many young Venezuelans as not would fight alongside Colombians against the current Venezuelan government and its Cuban consort.  Chinese influence, applied through financial assistance and incentive, might change the timing of outcomes a bit.  On the other hand, Brazilian intervention, which could possibly take the form of boots on the ground, might change that timing considerably, perhaps even preserving Bolivarian control for years more.  More likely, depending on how events unfold in the coming year, the Brazilians will decide in favor of the Grenadines.  Such a decision would accelerate the reestablishment of Venezuelan economy and the arrival of a new political stasis.

If the current president of Colombia reinforces his intention to seal a negotiated settlement with the FARC, the war in Venezuela could drag on beyond what it would otherwise.  The fastest resolution to the internal war in Venezuela and to the Circum-Caribbean War overall (and that would probably entail the least material and human cost) would occur if the peace agreements collapse and the Colombians opt for a robust military confrontation against the FARC, rather than for a negotiated settlement.  This would strongly signal a willingness to support the anti-Bolivarian movement within Venezuela and could presage a potential multinational, pro-Grenadine armed presence in Venezuela which would almost necessarily feature harsh treatment of organized Cuban presence there.  If the Brazilians then opted to side with the Grenadines, the outcome would be significantly more definitive, leaving the Colombians in a more secure position.  It would accelerate and facilitate the return of Venezuelan exiles, enhance Brazil’s geopolitical stature and augment that country’s influence in South America’s northern tier countries.  By supporting Colombia against the Bolivarian regime, Brazil will have assumed some US influence in the region without having postured itself as an adversary.  Venezuelans would greet a period of intense political re-structuring, navigate an entirely more positive azimuth.  They would nevertheless continue to suffer a degree of internal struggle.

Regardless of electoral outcomes or Brazilian strategic decision-making, by about 2020, the government of Venezuela will probably no longer be in the hands of the Bolivarians, but will instead be controlled by a regime more favorable toward free trade and toward the United States, not tolerant of the FARC, and not inclined to send any hydrocarbon products to Cuba below market value.  China will have to renegotiate its financial relationship with Venezuela.  While this is almost sure to mean it will pay a higher immediate price for that oil, China may actually do better as to price and flow if, as is to be expected, production levels rise dramatically.  Victory by the Grenadines, while it will deliver obvious abrupt political change, will not bring an end to organized internal conflict in Venezuela.  A new Venezuelan government would probably have to confront internal armed resistance fueled and peopled by that portion of the population that had willingly internalized Bolivarian socialism and will be inclined to re-resistance.

The Colombians will be in a much better condition for dealing harshly, perhaps definitively, with the FARC if the latter’s Venezuelan sanctuaries can be made to shrivel and many of their international diplomatic supporters forced to abandon the FARC.  While the Venezuelan and Colombian governments will be more closely allied than they are now, the conditions of liberalism in Colombia today suggest, in an odd turn-and-turn-about, that the coming Venezuelan re-insurgents may find sanctuary across the border in Colombia.

In short, big losers will include the current leaders of the dictatorial regimes in Venezuela and Cuba; the Forum of Sao Paulo; the FARC; and to a lesser degree several Chinese business entities including the Chinese government.  The Chinese, however, will recoup within a few years.  The current leaders of several smaller countries in the region will face increased internal political challenges if they had made themselves and their countries dependent on Bolivarian oil largesse or had identified themselves too closely with Bolivarian socialism.  These, however, will adjust case-to-case.  Although numerous countries in the region are beholden to the Bolivarians under the Venezuelan regime’s oil-for-diplomatic submission program, many of the countries that have thus far hesitated to decry the behavior of the Maduro government (for fear of jeopardizing the favorable trade terms) will reset their allegiances toward the Grenadines out of an expectation that the Grenadines will prevail in the war and that they will be forgiving in the aftermath.

Winners will include the Venezuelan opposition, the government and people of Colombia, Venezuelan exiles and the Venezuelan economy generally.[46]  Brazil could do very well depending on what decisions the people and government of Brazil take, although the wrong decision (which I believe would be to side militarily with the Cuban/Venezuelan Bolivarians) could stunt Venezuelan economic recovery as well as Brazilian international status.  Most Venezuelans will experience an extended period of material and emotional suffering regardless of the outcome, especially in those families forced to displace or which lose loved ones to the violence.  In the long run, the majority of Venezuelans will prefer to have had the current regimes of Bolivarians (Venezuelan and Cuban) defeated and ejected from governance.  Millions of mostly poor Venezuelans, however, will preserve affection and allegiance to the precepts and projects of Bolivarian socialism.  As such, political discord will continue in Venezuela after the formal Bolivarian structure is collapsed.  How soon the discord recedes will depend on the creativity of the Grenadine winners.  We would suppose such creativity to include formulae of compromise.  Venezuelans are not split along religious or racial lines.  They do not suffer a cultural history that features hate as a motivator for internal political relations.  They will reconcile.  Theirs is a future of baseball and bikinis, not bombings and burqas, but it is going to pass through some difficult moments.  The actions and consequences of the Venezuelan struggle extend to all of the countries of Central America, the Caribbean, and the northern Andes.  They will especially affect the chances for final resolution of the long-suffered Colombian war.

The opinions, observations and advice in this document are the author’s alone.  They are not the policy, opinions, observations, advice or practice of the United States Army or any other part of the United States Government and do not represent or reflect US Government policy, observation opinion, advice, or practice.

End Notes

[1] FARC stands for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces).  It is also referred to as the FARC-EP, the EP standing for Ejército del Pueblo (Army of the People). See, FARC-EP,  The FARC is the larger of two surviving insurgent organizations opposing the government.  The smaller of the two is the ELN, Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army).  See, Portal Voces de Colombia, Ejército de Liberación Nacional,

[2] See, for instance, ‘fotos manifestaciones caracas’ in Google Images.

[3] See, for instance, Leopoldo E. Colmenares G. “La Exportación de la ‘Revolución Bolivariana’ hacia América Latina” (Export of the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America), Military Review (Spanish language edition), January-February, 2011, pp. 8-23; Max G. Manwarring, Venezuela as an Exporter of 4th Generation Warfare Instability Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2012; see also, J. Lee Bennett, A game of Simon Says: Latin America’s Left Turn and Its Effects on US Security, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air Command and Staff College, Air University Press, 2008.

[4] For general information on the Forum of Sao Paulo, see Foro de Sao Paulo, For perspectives critical of the Forum of Sao Paulo, see Periodismo Sin Fronteras (Journalism Without Borders),, under the ‘Foro de Sao Paulo’ tab; ALEJANDRO PEÑA ESCLUSA , UnoAmerica,

[5] See, for instance, Ana Maria Salazar, “Análisis sin fronteras, Venezuela: Pronóstico reservado” (Analysis without borders: Venezuela: Prognosis uncertain), April 17, 2014,

[6] See, for instance, Alberto Franceschi, “Sentido Común #39 - La crisis del aparato militar del estado” (The crisis of the state military apparatus), accessed April 21, 2014,

[7] See for instance, Alfredo Coronil. “La Junta Patriotica Estudiantil y Popular Rechaza la Complicidad...” (The Patriotic Popular Student Board Rejects Complicity…), ForoLibertad, Para rescatar el porvenir (blog of Alfredo Coronil Hartmann), April 17, 2014,; see also, Caracas/EFE, “Diálogos en Venezuela no son para negociar, según Gobierno,”, Abril 9 de 2014,

[8] On the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, see “Venezuela Continues to Race Downhill,” Operational Environment Watch, September, 2014 , p. 33; Antonio Maria Delgado, “Venezuela agobiada por la fuga masiva de cerebros” (Venezuela overwhelmed by the massive brain drain), El Nuevo Herald, August 26, 2014,

[9] See, regarding Venezuelan distaste for Cuban presence, Dolartoday, “El ejército de ocupación cubano ya se encuentra en Venezuela: 60 mil soldados” (The Cuban occupation army is already in Venezuela: 60 thousand soldiers), Dólartoday, Caracas, 7 de junio de 2013, citing,  [Note that the headline is sensational. While there may be sixty thousand Cubans in Venezuela, the majority are not soldiers.]

[10] Richard A. Posner, ed. The Essential Holmes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, pp. 102-103.

[11] Note, however, that many observers prescribe greater effort at dialog and reconciliation.  See for instance, Dolartoday, “EEUU Arremete contra el Régimen de Maduro: ‘La OEA nos decepcionó sobre Venezuela’ (The United States Takes On the Maduro Regime: “The OAS decieved us regarding Venezuela”), Dólartoday, 30 April, 2014,; Rubén Blades, “La Carta de Rubén Blades a Venezuela,” February 22, 2014, accessed at El Espectador, April 30, 2014,

[12] Nobel laureate García was survived by his friend and ideological nemesis, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who, significantly for the battle of narratives, is vocally supportive of individual liberties and free markets.  See, for instance, Afredo Meza, “Vargas Llosa: "Las luchas de los estudiantes son también nuestras" (The students’ struggle is ours also), Para Rescatar El Porvenir, April 25, 2014,; Shirley Varnagy and Mario Vargas Llosa, “Esta es la entrevista a Vargas Llosa censurada por Globovisión” (This is the interview with Vargas Llosa censored by Globovision), La Patilla, April 30, 2014,

[13] See, for instance, Eduardo Mackenzie, “Descubra su juego con las Farc señor Santos” Debate Periódico, April 22, 2014,

[14] On the perspective of the Colombian military toward the FARC, negotiations with that organization, and the FARC relation to the Venezuelan crisis see, Eduardo Mackenzie, “Santos y el malestar militar en Colombia,” Periodismo sin Fronteras and Periódico Debate, March 26, 2014,

[15] See, for instance, Jonathan Watts and Sibylla Brodzinsky, “Colombia closes in on a peace deal that could end world's longest civil war,” The Guardian, March 16, 2014,;

On the beginnings of the FARC-Colombian government talks see, June S. Beittel, Peace Talks in Colombia, Congressional Research Service (7-5700,, R42982), accessed online April 30, 2014 at,

[16] Ultima Hora, “Un movimiento vinculado a las FARC será un partido político si se alcanza la paz,” (A movement tied to the FARC will be a political party if peace is reached), April 29, 2014,  “El Movimiento Bolivariano por la Nueva Colombia, un grupo clandestino vinculado a las FARC, será un partido político ‘abierto’ y ‘legal’ si se llega a un acuerdo de paz en el país, afirmó hoy en La Habana el equipo negociador de la guerrilla.” (The guerrilla negotiating group confirmed in Havana today that  The Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia, a clandestine group linked tothe FARC, will be an ‘open’ and ‘legal’ political party if a peace accord is arrived at in the country), Ibid.

[17] To this I would add infiltration of pro-FARC elements into various Colombian government agencies and institutions, the considerable financial power that the FARC derives from the illegal drug trade, and international support.  Without physical sanctuary for FARC leadership, however (sanctuary made available in great measure as a result of these other factors), the other factors would not be enough to keep the FARC alive.  In other words, while FARC strength is variously derived, it would not exist as a viable and significant force were it not for the maintenance of physical sanctuaries.

[18] Juan Carlos Caguaripano, “Juan Carlos Caguaripano Scott, Capitán activo de la GNB le habla al país” (Juan Carlos Caguaripano Scott, Active Duty GNB [Bolivarian National Guard] Captain, talks to the country),  Dtvoficial,  April 29, 2014,; ÚN, “‘Lucas’ Y ‘El Llanero’ Son Buscados por Conspirar Contra El Presidente Maduro (+Detalles)” (Lucas’ and ‘El Llanero’ Are Being Sought for Conspiracy against President Maduro [+Details]),  La Iguana TV, April 29,

[19] VenezuelaAlDía, “Presos 30 oficiales por conspirar contra Maduro,” (Emprisoned 30 oficers for conspiring against Maduro), VenezuelaAlDía, April 14, 2014,; Infonews, “Venezuela: hay 30 oficiales detenidos por intento de golpe” (Venezuela: there are 30 officers detained for intent to commit a coup), Infonews, April 27, 2014,

[20] Consider on this point, FIM, “Posición del FIM en relación a la detención de tres oficiales de la aviación acusados de conspiración” (Position of the Institutional Military Front in relation to the detention of three aviation officers accused of conspiracy), Frente Patriótico, March 30, 2014,

[21] Dólartoday , “El régimen se debilita: Rodríguez Torres: Si la FANB tuviese que salir lo haría para defender a Maduro,” (The regime weakens: Rodríguez Torres: If the FANB [National Bolivarian Armed Forces] had to come out [of their barracks] they would do so to defend Maduro),  Dólartoday, Apr 7, 2014,

[22] On a local perspective regarding Russian arms transfers see, Fausta Rodríguez, “Venezuela: Misery and missiles” Datechguy, April 25, 2014,

[23] See, on this point, “Rutas del Bachaqueo de Gasolina entre Venezuela – Colombia” (Gasoline Smuggling Routes Between Venezuela and Colombia), NoticiasVenezuela, Aug 24, 2014,;  During a run, some smugglers are stopped multiple times to pay local tolls, usuallt at roadblocks and armed personnel.  At one stop, three apparently unarmed men dressed in civilian clothes wave down the smugglers, who quickly pay each of the three.  The smugglers claim the three represent the FARC, ELN and Venezuelan National Guard, respectively.

[24] I agree that such a use of math is simplistic.  I use the demographic strength of the Venezuelan opposition as a proxy for the whole.  Popular support is but one ingredient of a successful insurgent challenge, and neither a correct, optimal, nor necessary amount of popular support for successful insurgency has ever been calculated or, to my knowledge even proposed.  Other ingredients, however, to include financial resources, competent leadership, foreign support, etcetera, are also available to the Venezuelan opposition. 

[25] Nicolle Yapur, “Cuba se ha llevado 39% de la solidaridad petrolera”  )Cuba Has Carried Away 39% of the Oil [fiscal] Contribution), August 25, 2014,

[26]  On the attractiveness of the Chinese economic model see, Trevor Cohen, “A Tale of Culture and Ideology,” Fair Observer, December 6, 2012,; “Moreover, the so called “Beijing Consensus” has resonated most strongly in Cuba, a communist country now in the process of experimenting with economic liberalization. For the Cubans, China represents a model of how to liberalize an economy, while avoiding the question of the social and political reform. It provides a guide for the Cuban Communist Party to maintain its direct control over the economy, politics, and daily life, while simultaneously allowing for reforms to increase the efficiency of the Cuban economy,” Ibid.

[27] John F. Kelly, Posture Statement of Commander, United States Southern Command

before the 113th Congress House Armed Services Committee. Washington, D. C.: United States Congress, 2014, p. 11; Noticias 24, “Venezuela aspira exportar un millón de barriles de petróleo diarios a China”  (Venezuela hopes to export a million barrels of oil daily to China),  Noticias 24/Venezuela, April 21, 2014,; Assis Moreira De Genebra, CHINA - Financiamentos na AL superam US$ 100 bi” (China – Financing in Latin America exceeds $100 billion US), Defesanet, April 6, 2014,; Annie Z. Yu, “Chinese tycoon plans to rival Panama Canal with $40 billion waterway through Nicaragua,” Washington Times, July 15, 2013,; but see Dan Molinsky, “Work Resumes on Panama Canal Expansion,” The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2014,

[28] Gene Sharp, Politics of Nonviolent Action, Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973; Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 2005.

[29] On the shape of the Venezuelan government’s denunciation and definition of the conspiracy against it see, AVN, “Sepa Quién Es Quién En La Conspiración Contra Venezuela” (Know who is who in the conspiracy against Venezuela), La Iguana TV, May 3, 2014,; on the nature and consequence of non-violent strategy see, “Section 27, ‘Non-Violent’ Action” in Geoffrey Demarest, Winning Irregular War, Fort Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2014 (TBP), pp. 258-261.

[30] See for instance, Charles Levinson and Margaret Coker, “The Secret Rally That Sparked an Uprising: Cairo Protest Organizers Describe Ruses Used to Gain Foothold Against Police; the Candy-Store Meet That Wasn't on Facebook, formerly, ‘Egyptians Share Secrets of Uprising,’” Wall Street Journal. “That protest was anything but spontaneous.” =WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories (accessed 13 September 2011).

[31] For a pro-opposition perspective on the vulnerability of the Venezuelan power grid see, StJacques, “The Coming Electrical Power Disaster in Venezuela,” StJaques Online, February 10, 2010,

[32] See, for instance, Darío Mizrahi, “Las cárceles en América Latina, auténticas escuelas del delito” (Jails in Latin America, veritable schools of criminality),, November 17, 2013,; Infobae, “Descontrol y muerte en las prisiones de Venezuela” (Lack of control and death in the Venezuelan prisons),, November 17, 2013,; TS Trader, “506 presos murieron en el 2013, según el Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones” (506 person died in 2013 according to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory), TS Trader, January 29, 2014,; Henry Andrade Villegas, Situación penitenciaria venezolana, Maracaibo: Corporación Editorial Litográfica, 2006?, accessed online at monografí, April 30, 2014,; Julián Martín Berrío, “Sistema penitenciario: ¿cuál es el problema?” (The prison system: what’s the problem?), Semana, August 31, 2012,

[33] For an excellent, brief case study in counter-kidnapping see, José Gregorio Pérez, “El fin de la alianza de las Farc con el 'parche de Zuley'” (The end of the alliance between the FARC and ‘parche de Zuley’),, May 1, 2014,

[34] Consider for instance, EFE, “ONGs denuncian “criminalización” de su trabajo en Venezuela” (NGOs denounce ‘criminalization’ of their work in Venezuela), LaRepública, May 8, 2014,; Human Rights Watch , World Report 2014:Venezuela, Human Rights Watch, accessed May 14, 2014,; Amnesty International, Venezuela, Amnesty International, accessed May 14, 2014,

[35] Pedro Pablo Peñaloza, “Venezuela, 'intocable' en la escena internacional” (Venezuela, ‘untouchable’ on the international scene), El, March 29, 2014,

[36] On the relationhip of the Forum of Sao Paulo to Bolivarian governments and to CELAC, see, for instance, Digital Granma International, “‘El Foro de Sao Paulo es un extraordinario laboratorio politico’ afirma la presidenta de Brasil, Dilma Rousseff, en la inauguración oficial del XIX Encuentro” (At the official inauguration of the XIX Encounter, President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff affirms, ‘The Forum of Sao Paulo is an extraordinary political laboratory’) Digital Granma International, August 3, 2013,

[37] Gabriel Solano, “La CELAC le da la espalda a Puerto Rico” (CELAC turns its back on Puerto Rico), Fin del Capitalismo, February 2, 2014,

[38] José A. Delgado, “La CELAC mantiene a Puerto Rico en su agenda” (CELAC keeps Puerto Rico on its agenda),, January 29, 2014,”; Contrainjerencia, “Puerto Rico: celebran el apoyo de la Celac a la descolonización” (Puerto Rico: They celebrate CELAC’s support of decolonization), Contrainjerencia, February 2, 2014,; Julio A. Muriente Pérez , “CELAC 2013 y Puerto Rico: Algo extraordinario ha sucedido” (CELAC 2013 and Puerto Rico: Something extraordinary has happened), Red Betances, May 7, 2014,

[39] See, Fausta Rodríguez, “Venezuela: The marauding motorcyclists,” October, 2013,, citing Daniel Duquenal, “The society Chavez has left us: barbarians inside the gate,” Venezuelan News and Views, September 27, 2013,

[40] On the use of roadblocks in irregular war see, “Section 63, Roadblocks and Checkpoints” in Geoffrey Demarest, Winning Irregular War, Fort Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2014 (TBP), pp. 258-261.

[41] Actualidad RT, “Revelan que hay centenares de paramilitares listos en Colombia para ingresar a Venezuela” (It is revealed that there are hundreds of paramilitaries in Colombia ready to enter into Venezuela), ANNCOL, April 2, 2014, mundo/latinoamerica/venezuela/6557-revelan-que-hay-centenares-de-paramilitares-listos-en-colombia-para-ingresar-a-venezuela.

[42] On the relationship of the Forum of Sao Paulo to Puerto Rican socialist independence organizations, see for instance, teleSUR/kg-PR,  “Segundo día del Foro Sao Paulo se centra en soberanía y descolonización” (The second day of the Forum of Sao Paulo concentrates on sovereignty and decolonialization), Telesur, July 5, 2012,

[43] On Peasant Reservation Zones see, Juan David Velasco, “Dos millones y medio de hectáreas esperan ser Zonas de Reserva Campesina” (It is hoped two and a half million hectares will become Peasant Reservation Zones), RCN La Radio,  June 11, 2013, (accessed August, 2013).

[44] Actualidad RT, “Revelan que hay centenares de paramilitares listos en Colombia para ingresar a Venezuela” (It is revealed that there are hundreds of paramilitaries in Colombia ready to enter into Venezuela), Ibid; but see, La opinion, “Alcalde dice que en Ragonvalia no se concentra grupo de ‘paras’” (The Mayor says there is no group of ‘paras’ concentrated in Rogonvalia), La Opinion, April 7, 2014,; see also, EFE, “Paramilitar colombiano abatido en Venezuela” (Colombian paramilitary member taken down in Venezuela), ANNCOL, April 4, 2014,

[45] Redacción Bucaramanga, “Los NN colombianos en frontera con Venezuela” (The unmarked Colombian graves on the Venezuelan border),, April 6, 2014,

[46] On the potential of Venezuelan oil production to rebound, see, Daniel Lemaitre, “The Future of Oil Exporters in Latin America,” Global Risk Insights, April 1, 2014,; “The production problem with PDVSA is directly tied to a lack of human capital. Until human capital is developed, PDVSA will have to rely on short-term financing via external partners to even keep up with the current production levels,” Ibid.


Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Geoffrey Demarest is a researcher in the US Army's Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He holds a JD and a PhD in International Studies from the University of Denver, and a PhD in Geography from the University of Kansas.  He is a graduate of the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and of the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Demarest's latest book is titled Winning Irregular War.



Wed, 10/08/2014 - 7:40am

This article is a tremendous exercise in correcting the framing within which Venezuela's situation is often placed, laying out ideas which Venezuelans and Venezuela watchers hardly—if ever—contemplate, and making an appreciable attempt to predict problems and prescribe solutions to the many possible, and perhaps likely, derailments in the process of return to democracy.

I haven't seen another treatise on the matter similarly cogent: it proposes a daunting but achievable task, without glossing over unavoidable difficulties, sacrifice, and requisite expenditures in blood and treasure. Yet as sober and serious an analysis as it is, it is ultimately a cause for hope. I had not expected to come across a piece like this so soon after creating a Venezuela interest list in my Zite iOS reader app, and pleasantly progressed from having a cursory glance at the article, to piqued interest, to rapt attention, ultimately motivated to express both gratitude and respect for the author's work and for Small Wars Journal having delivered it to its audience.

I look forward to reading and considering anything more Dr. Demarest contributes to this discussion. And I look forward to the conclusion of this Bolivarian-Grenadine conflict as he has presented that it is likeliest to occur.