Venezuela Update – Massive Protests
Saturday, February 2nd Demonstrations
The Pueblo responded to Interim President Juan Guaidó’s call with dozens of mass demonstrations across the country, urging the ouster of Nicolas Maduro. Maduro, following the same script as he’s done repeatedly over the past few years, staged a rally of his own (just one) in downtown Caracas.
Yes, it was a big one, but it paled in comparison to those wanting him gone. He was out-protested ten to one, and the vast majority of those voicing their support for Maduro were government workers required to attend for fear of losing their jobs. For many years, both deceased and former President Hugo Chavez and then Maduro has required that all government workers attend events to create a false illusion of support for their Socialist PSUV party.
Guaidó Speaks, Inspires The People
The crowd hung on Guaidó’s every word during an inspiring oratory of hope, faith and healing. Optimism fills the streets, although the change everyone is hoping for has yet to come to fruition, but they all believe it’s coming.
It Was Surprisingly Peaceful
With the exception of a few isolated incidents at smaller protests in the barrios that went on throughout the evening, things were relatively calm and the administration held back on military repression. This, despite widespread and confirmed reports of dozens of young people being kidnapped and tortured by security forces over the past week in a bid to instill fear and suppress attendance for Saturday’s protests.
Is Maduro afraid to test the U.S. and its allies’ patience and invite military intervention, so he ordered his security forces to stand down? Did he order the stand-down in fear of the crowds exploding into a frenzy that even he couldn’t control? Or has the military rank and file had enough, and he feared they wouldn’t follow orders to “fire on the people” anyway, revealing his weakness?
Speculation on the restraint is running wild, because it’s so out of character.
The U.S. Military Threat is Real, and Maduro Knows It
Despite most pundits dismissing the possibility of U.S. military intervention, Maduro hasn’t. This is why Guaidó still walks the streets and hasn’t been arrested or harmed. The U.S. threatened severe retribution for any threat to his freedom and safety, and Maduro obviously got the message.
In a feeble attempt to “show who’s in control,” the government announced that they’re starting an investigation into Guaidó (big deal), froze his bank accounts (there’s no money in them anyway), and is preventing him from leaving the country (he never had any intention to).
More On That Military Threat
The U.S. and its allies have announced immediate humanitarian assistance to the people, whether Maduro likes it or not, delivered through Colombia, Brazil, and a still unnamed Caribbean island. It’s a taunt and shout out to Maduro and his military that “we’re coming,” but maybe it’s just a red herring to keep them awake at night. Since it’s now logistically difficult to deliver foodstuffs through the borders (how many bags of beans can one Marine carry?), the U.S. says that at first, nutritional supplements will be delivered.
Maduro Takes The E.U.’s Foolish Policy And Rubs Its Face In It.
The E.U. has been dragging its feet on formally recognizing Guaidó. Instead, last week, they called for new elections or else they would recognize Guaidó as Interim President, although Guaidó is the one who’s been promising new elections all along…not Maduro!
Maduro had immediately rejected that demand, but on Saturday, he promised new elections, for the National Assembly that opposes him, and not the Presidency! It was a pitiful display of contempt, one for the history books.
A lot has been written (guilty here) about the E.U.’s refusal to immediately dismiss Maduro’s legitimacy, because it plays right into Maduro’s public relations hands, sort of. On a policy basis though, any E.U. decision wouldn’t mean very much, because its Parliament has little bite to enforce the announcements and actions of its 28 member nations. What Hungary wants might not be what Belgium wants.
Where are Russia and China?
As Maduro’s most ardent supporters, one would expect them to be taking the lead on his behalf, or at least help him effectively respond to U.S. actions and sanctions. Hasn’t happened, and instead, PetroChina said it’s pulling out of a $10 billion refinery project in Venezuela because of the country’s dismal economic condition. (It took them this long to realize this? Or do U.S. sanctions work!?)
Russia and China may have something up their sleeves, but if so, it might not be worth pulling something out for Maduro. They may also be starting to realize that their best chances at getting paid for past loans rests with a new administration, and as hard as it may be for them to swallow, a democratic one.
A Former Crook. A General, the Mystery Planes, Unsold Gold, and a Bank Revolt
Former PDVSA head Rafael Ramirez announced he’s willing to stand for election to the Presidency. Ramirez had been in Hugo Chavez’s cabinet since 2002, pillaged billions, and was complicit in all state acts of corruption and human rights violations. He was fired by Maduro in 2017 while a Representative to the U.N., because of infighting, and no one knows where the hell he is. When he left New York (if he left), he never returned to Venezuela. His announcement prompted outrage.
A Venezuelan Air Force General denounced Maduro and pledged support to Guaidó. His defection didn’t inspire other defections, the government charges him with treason, whereabouts unknown.
Two large Russian charter planes arrive empty and leave empty, over the course of several days. No one knows what the plan was, but eyes on the airport tarmac say nothing was loaded. They just left. Rumor has it they were going to transport gold to Russia, Maduro’s new piggy bank in Moscow, but a revolt at the Central Block blocked the gold’s release.
And while we’re on the subject of gold, Noor Capital from the United Arab Emirates canceled their planned purchase of 20 tons of Venezuelan gold. They had purchased 3 tons on January 21st, before the U.S. sanctions were announced (on the 23rd), and that gold was delivered. However, they canceled the subsequent, much larger order, still unpaid for, which would have made it a violation of U.S. sanctions. The general consensus is Noor got a phone call from the UAE government powers telling them no deal. Could those Russian planes have been chartered by Noor before they canceled the order?