Venezuela: A Government That Acts Like A Gang & Works With Gangs

Since Hugo Chavez died in 2013, the country has been going nowhere except down. Venezuela has suffered from hyperinflation when oil prices plummeted in 2014 making the value of their currency worthless. With many people opposing the government, President Maduro has now decided to gain total power in the government and start a dictatorship. However, the government has been recently acting more like a gang and have been accused of working with actual gangs in Venezuela.

Today, millions of Venezuelans struggle to get food and basic products from stores that have so few already, although, government supporters have a less difficult time searching for products thanks to the Maduro regime. Due to the dangers of sitting in extremely long lines to just purchase basic products, some people begin to support the Maduro regime just so they can get those products. The government controls the food distribution, which means they know what goes to which store and are willing to share this information with supporters. Although, other reports suggest that the Venezuelan army actually control food distribution.

The most interesting aspect about the Venezuelan government is that they have supposed connections with actual gangs in the country that work for them. The most well-known gangs that have connections with the government are the Tupamaros and the Colectivos. Before, the Tupamaros, a far left Marxist group, were branded as urban guerrillas until Hugo Chavez took power. Then the Tupamaros started bodyguarding government VIPs, scaring political opponents, and organizing pro-government demonstrations after the National Assembly’s President allegedly contacted them. In return, the government supplies them with weapons. Today, the Tupamaros and the government have a strategic alliance with each other. The international community has suggested that the government should seek for foreign investment and better economic policies, but are against the gang’s ideological beliefs and the government doesn’t intend to lose ties with the Tupamaros. There’s not much known about the armed group, the Colectivos, but several members from the group were seen with Venezuela’s security forces violently attacking anti-government protesters with weapons and tear-gas and have been responsible for about half of the protesters who have died as of July 2017.

Venezuela’s government has recently been accused of treating their people poorly. Many opposition members have been jailed, placed under house arrest, or were held at intelligence services’ headquarters for months. At anti-government protests, security forces have been accused of shooting demonstrators with riot-control munitions, running over demonstrators with armored vehicles, brutally beating peaceful protesters, and staging violent raids on apartment buildings. Some protesters have claimed that Venezuela’s intelligence service identify protesters, take them away without warrants, and either torture or prosecute them in military courts for ‘violating’ international law. Maduro has also been known to fire government workers who speak against him.

In 2017, Maduro showed signs of creating a dictatorship when the Supreme Court stripped power from the National Assembly, a legislative branch, and gave it to the Maduro regime. Maduro planned to take over the National Assembly so he can draft a new constitution and gain total power. Since 2014, the National Assembly has blocked all laws that the judicial and executive court have attempted to pass, and it was due to the fact that the branch was dominated by the opposition party, who were against Maduro and his regime. It led the international community to condemn the action. Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor, a Maduro loyalist, publicly condemned the action as well. She called the ruling a sign of a “rupture in the constitutional order”, and a grave threat to the last bit of democracy in Venezuela. The secretary-general of the Organization of American States then called an emergency meeting with the members by citing the “Democratic Charter”, a pact that members signed in 2001 to pledge that they would adhere to democratic principles. After this action, they may expel Venezuela from the organization.

It seems like the only way to save Venezuela rests on the shoulders of the Venezuelan army. According to the Venezuelan constitution, the armed forces are supposed to be separate from being involved in politics. However, the movement that guides the Maduro regime, Chavismo, has been led by the military since the beginning of it. Today, officers or former military officers run 11 of the 32 ministries in the government, and 11 out of 23 state governors are retired officers. President Maduro has been known as a producer of generals since he took power.  Last year, he promoted 200 officers to the rank of general, which brings the number of generals in Venezuela to over 2,000, the U.S. only has about 900 generals. According to reports, some lower-ranking officers are dissatisfied with what the military has been doing and they don’t hesitate to publicly speak about it. In the armed forces, the army is filled with different groups both between and within branches of the Venezuelan military. Some help gangs with drug-trafficking by giving them access to ports and airports that they control. Besides the divisions in the army, the generals all share the same interest, saving the regime’s survival. Despite the fact that Venezuelans in the country are suffering from a food crisis and an economic crisis, the “government” has been busy appeasing to both gangs and the Venezuelan military, and there seems to be no sight of this crisis ending anytime soon.

See the Acts of CIACS

CIACS, which stands for Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Serguridad or the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses in English, is a group of criminal organizations based in Guatemala. Many of these groups were created after the incredibly violent 36-year long civil war, that took place in Guatemala from 1960-1996. During the war many high level intelligence and security personnel were trained in the government. One of these particularly infamous groups was the EMP, a group created to protect the president and his family. The EMP ended up often misusing their power to arrest and interrogate opposition and had strong and sinister ties to death squads. During the Civil War many of these intelligence, security and military groups ended up coming into contact with criminal groups. After the end of the Civil War many of these groups were disbanded, leaving high-ranking officials without jobs. Criminal groups then recruited many of these officials, with whom many they already had ties, creating groups with strong connections to government intelligence and security. Many of these groups then fought to prevent trials of war crimes, involving former military and officials.

These criminal groups or CIACS today are elusive and involved in a host of illegal activities including contraband, drugs, illegal adoptions and the creation of fake passports. They have become a sort of parallel government, using their skills and connections to corrupt the Guatemalan government, in particular their judicial system.

Some CIACS have a legal status but commit illegal acts and operate in secrecy. Other CIACS are embedded in complicated structures with political or business related goals and act as the intelligence or military department. While other CIACS join and break apart easily to complete certain tasks. The CIACS with the most power are those with their own private corporations or the ones involved with organized crime groups. The groups involved with organized crime tend to be heavily involved in local governments whereas, corporations have more ties to the federal government. Like the Sicilian mafia CIACS relies on weakness of state institutions, providing security, intelligence and elimination of competition for legal and illegal businesses. Their main task is to keep their impunity by having a malleable government that defies attempts of reform or modernization.

One of the ways CIACS maintains their impunity is through corruption of the judicial system. La Oficinita is one of the particular CIACS that operates within the Attorney General’s office. They have stopped cases from going to trial and their roles within security establishments had created an almost complete impunity. Famous examples have included former president Alfonso Portillo, who had strong connections to CIACS. Portillo was charged with embezzling money from the Defense Ministry’s pension funds but was suspiciously found innocent. Members of CIACS have been known to use their connections to get particular judges hired. One example is Terna X or three people, with strong connections to various CIACS, on the postulation committee for the Supreme Court. Terna X had tampered with the voting to get four judges elected, that were found “unsuitable” by the CICIG, or the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.

Today the CIACS main threat to impunity is CICIG. CICIG is a commission started by the United Nations and the Guatemalan government to strengthen the government and justice in Guatemala while making CIACS accountable for their crimes. CICIG has had some trouble prosecuting elusive members of CIACS but in general they have raised awareness and have been able to reveal how widespread some of the criminal connections are. Raising hope among Guatemalans that CIACS involvement will soon dissipate.

Abu Sayyaf, A Government?

Abu Sayyaf, a guerilla group is centered around Islam and is based in the southern Philippines. It wants to separate from the leadership of the Philippines and seek a place where the Moro people can live. They are mostly known for high level illegal activities like the assassinations of high level government officials. These acts have earned Abu Sayyaf the name of the most brutal group in the Philippines. The groups founder, Khadaffy Abubakar Janjalani, traveled to Middle Eastern Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Libya. He studied the Iranian Revolution in 1988, and he met Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, where it is rumored he fought with him against the Soviet Invasion. This is where he was inspired to transform the Philippines into a Muslim state. Since their creation Abu Sayyaf has been operating under the pretense that they aim to turn the Philippines into a primarily Muslim state. They do this by committing violent attacks on tourists and well off Filipinos. To the naked eye this might appear as a guerrilla group terrorizing the country and bullying them into submission; However, Abu Sayyaf operates in a structured hierarchy, operating with branches of their group carrying out attacks based on each of the branches input. This means that Abu Sayyaf is actually trying to be more of a government, rather than just a terrorist group.

It all starts back at the creation of the group with the leader, Janjalani. Janjalani’s sole purpose of the group was to govern the nation of the Philippines under Muslim rule. Janjalani was known for being a preacher. He fought in the Soviet-Afghan war, and it is rumored that he got incredibly inspired at a meeting with Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda provided the group with the necessary resources and training to get off the ground.  After he died the gang separated into two factions, which were quickly extinguished when the leaders of both groups got killed. Since then the group is now in smaller subgroups, but connected by one man, Radullan Sahiron.

This can even be seen by their recent attacks. Fighting started in Marawi on the southern section of the island Mindanao, in 2017. They burned churches, jails and schools before taking bridges and main streets. The churchgoers and police were then beheaded. This seems like a clearcut guerilla act,  just looking at the killings, but this act shows that they can have the power to take towns for themselves,something that a well regulated militia can do. They are a segregated group, muslims in the Philippines, and they govern within their own group. The group is split up into several sections within its hierarchy. It is led by a group of generals, in a structure where the longer someone shows their allegiance to the group, the more power they have. This can clearly be seen with the newest leader elected, Sahiron. Sahiron was an original member of the Majilis Shura, a council of 14 generals who controlled major decisions. They also have a select leader, this would be the closest to the executive branch. The executive appoints major generals to help execute specific tasks. The executive, just like our president, has final say on military operations. They have their own military, which is grown by Abu Sayyaf’s own military scouts, who attend classrooms prayer sessions which draw right from the Koran, calling for the children to fight with the group.

With all these comparisons it is easy to see the similarity between any government and theirs. However, all this is undercut by the fact that they commit terrible atrocities that makes the group appear completely uncivilized to the public. This is why it makes the most sense for Abu Sayyaf to relate back to their roots, the Moro Liberation Front. The MLF is a less extreme group that shares the same values as Abu Sayyaf, but believes there is a more less extreme way for the Philippines to recognize a muslim section of their country. This is why Abu Sayyaf should denounce ISIS and rejoin the MLF, for the better of their own group and the better of the Philippine people.

Abu Sayyaf appears to be a guerrilla group, blatantly attacking tourists and Filipinos for fame and fortune, but they do desire to become a government. Abu Sayyaf has a split leadership allowing them to check each other and let the group run the way that the majority likes. They do commit heinous acts like beheading, but this is only to gain respect from other countries and to let the group financially stay afloat. They use violence as a way to propel conversations towards letting the Muslims have their own state in the Philippines and the more attention they direct to the topic, the higher chance there is that they can establish their own country. Abu Sayyaf is a guerrilla group, but it is clear that they desire to become a country, no matter what the means, the reward is worth it.

Luiz da Silva: Populist Extraordiniare

When asking a Brazilian their opinion when they first think of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, they might say “heroic” or a “man of the people”, so it may somewhat surprise you when you here he was tried and convicted of corruption only a few months back. This begs the question, “Why is a man that was convicted of stealing money from the country and the government considered a hero?”. Luiz da Silva used his humble beginnings as a way to appeal to the people and steal power for his party.

Luiz da Silva was born into extreme poverty in Pernambuco, a state bordering the Atlantic. His father worked as a farmer, and his mother a seamstress, who always needed money. It is no wonder da Silva began working at such a young age, driven to supply his family with money. He worked at small jobs, shining shoes and helping around the house. He didn’t learn to read until the age of ten. He soon completely left the thought of attending school and worked full time as a metalworker in factories near his home town, Garanhuns. When da Silva was thirty years old he was elected president of the metal workers union, a group that Luiz da Silva was proud to represent. He then transformed this group into a more political union, turning it into a political party, trying to sway Brazilians to his leftist ideas.

In the late 1970s he led large protests against the dictatorship that ruled over Brazil, and while doing so, he gained a significant amount of followers and supporters. It is no wonder, then, that he was arrested and imprisoned for a month. Due to his massive following accrued when protesting the hated government, he was elected to Congress. As his political career grew, so did his following, as millions supported his presidential bid. He won with 61 percent of the vote, and in doing so cemented himself as one of the biggest comeback stories, from being born in the slums, to achieving the greatest dream, to become president.

With all this history in mind he also became even more likable with his main political goals, social and economic reform. His social reform brought about the “Forme Zero” or zero hunger bill which brought together many bills for the overall goal of no one suffering from hunger in Brazil. He also created a program entitled the Family Allowance Bill which allowed for more food and supplies to cook for impoverished family. By creating this program he streamlined the process of families applying to get more food, and in doing so he removed administration costs and the overall hassle families had to go through. He was also reelected for a second term,and once again won by achieving  61 percent of the vote.

Not only did Luiz da Silva aim to effect social reform, he also wanted to help grow the economy. He created a program called the Growth Acceleration Program, which  was meant to grow the amount of jobs, repair roads, reduce taxes for the poorer half of the country, and lastly modernize their electricity production. This program was a big success and it seemed like the president could do nothing wrong. Luiz da Silva resigned with the International Monetary Fund and went ahead and paid the full amount owed three years ahead of the projected year. After implementing the Growth Acceleration Program, Brazil’s economy began to thrive. He shook off the classification of emerging market, which Brazil was called for many years, and turned Brazil into a developed market. This new classification led to much investment in Brazil. All this economic success propelled Brazil to new heights, and raised the present of Brazilians in the middle class from 37 to 50 percent of the population. All this work that Luiz da Silva put into his role made him Brazil’s most popular politician of all time, and getting the bid to host the 2016 summer Olympics only added to his popularity.

Back to the question at hand, “Why is he so popular if he was convicted of corruption?”. The answer to this is found in his history and in his success in office. He represented the nation, born into poverty fighting the dictatorship, leading to his presidency, where he passed bills to feed the poor and create jobs which propelled the economy upwards. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a symbol of Brazil, a man that all Brazilians are proud to have represented their country, and all this is backed up with the simple fact that while he was in office, he enjoyed a 90 percent approval rating. No matter what this man does in the future, he will always be seen as the pride of Brazil.  

The Fraudulent Widow

Cristina Kirchner became a figurehead of feminism in the modern age, having been democratically elected president of Argentina beginning in 2007. She is no longer the president of Argentina, having served her two consecutive terms in office. Her husband Nestor, who served as president from 2003-2007, and died in 2010. The world believed Cristina Kirchner would not be able to govern the country effectively after her husband’s death. She crafted her own populist way of governing, supported by the poorer people of Argentina, beloved for her humble beginnings and her favor towards them.

Kirchner rose through the ranks in politics to reach the presidency which she held for two four year terms. She had been heavily involved in government since she was elected to the senate in 2001, helping her husband get elected in 2003 while dealing with outward pressure discriminating against her gender. In 2005 came her most important senatorial victory, which was election as the representative of Buenos Aires, where thirty-eight percent of the county of Argentina’s population resided. Once her husband completed his term, he declared he would not run again and his wife, Cristina Kirchner, would succeed him. Kirchner was believed to just be a puppet president, controlled by Nestor, continuing the policies of the previous presidency. The doubters were inevitably proved wrong as she emerged independant after her husband’s death.

Public support of Kirchner was extremely high in her first term in office. Her economic policies heavily favored the poor, impoverished majority who eagerly voted for her. Her husband, Nestor, had a similar policy and was popular with the people of Argentina. However, a female figure in power was a great invitation for change, considering her husband had decided not to run. Her critical policy of big businesses took the side of the people, which became a popular viewpoint of politicians.

Kirchner, once elected to her first term in 2007, put in place a tax on grain exports, which was meant to lower prices for goods aimed towards the poorer classes. This tax created an intense food shortage within Argentina, and it was revoked not long after it was put in place. Perhaps Kirchner’s most celebrated achievement was the signing of the document to allow same sex marriages in Argentina, becoming the first Latin-American country to do so. Kirchner began focusing on adding agricultural exports during her time in office, as well as increasing regulation on imports and encouragement of local manufacturing. Kirchner’s love for the people of poverty in Argentina stems from her ancestral ties to immigrants into the country, appealing to the lower classes as a president. “I’m a daughter of the middle class with a strong sense of social mobility and individualism, like the waves of immigrants, like my Spanish grandparents, who made Argentina”.

Although the economy appeared to be growing once again in Argentina during her first term, the wealth was not shared with the poorer classes, with the large businesses retaining most of it, which the public has come to noticed. 51 percent of the population lived below the poverty line until 2009, when Kirchner and the Argentine government created a program that gave financial incentives to children of unemployed parents to send their children to school. It spread money from the wealthier big businesses around, as to improve the general economy, though it was frowned upon by the businesses. This idea lowered poverty greatly, but created the problem of overcrowded schools, which continues to persist. Her work on the unemployment rate in Argentina kept her in favour with the people, but she had a falling out with them in her second term, not getting reelected and was charged with many political crimes.

Cristina Kirchner’s strategy to give to the poor inevitably failed, crashing the economy in Argentina, for the peso decreased in value by over 22% in her final year due to the lack of cash the bank had in its possession, as well as keeping the inflation rate artificially low, leading to the explosion of the rate after she left office. The positive outcome was only short term, the benefits of her socialist populism losing steam in her second term, resulting in long term damage to the Argentine economy.

Hugo Chavez: Venezuela’s “Savior”

In many aspects, Venezuela today is one of the worst off countries, not only in South America but around the world. This struggle inside the Latin American nation dates back decades, but there actually was a slight sign of hope around the country in the late 1990’s and into the early 2000’s, and its symbol and agenda were based solely on the then rising socialist populist politician Hugo Chavez.

Chavez came to power after a string of military coups which led to his imprisonment then release where shortly after, he boasted a leftist populism which was said to be the savior of democracy in Venezuela. Chavez won support easily due to the immense corruption and dysfunction that plagued the government as he went around the nation gaining followers and making promises of a more democratic and socialist nation. On Chavez’s journey to being elected in 1998, his party (The Movement of the Fifth Republic) made more promises to the poor such as increasing in funding to villages and reorganizing the wealth to aid them and also boasted of an increasingly socialist agenda. Chavez intended on carrying out the Bolivarian Revolution and campaigned that as he was a fan of fellow socialist Simon Bolivar who preceded him over a century before and was known as the “Liberator”.

Chavez won the 1998 election and took no time in beginning his long list of changes which he had promised repeatedly throughout his campaign. He started at the judiciary level where he promised to replace the corrupt officials under the previous administration. He replaced nearly all members of the supreme court and gained power with his new appointments. Chavez then used his overwhelming support to pass more laws and rewrite old ones in order to give him more power and more time in office, as he most notably repealed term limits so he could be elected with no end. These moves he made at the judicial level may have kept true to his idea of completely revitalizing the courts, but it also took advantage of the support he had going into his time in office as the people of Venezuela looked to him as the last chance at saving their democracy.

As Chavez’s time in office went on and he gained more power as president, the promises he was making to the poor and the working classes were unrealistic and irresponsible. He took over 90% of the assembly seats and virtually every elective office available in what was called a mega election. At this point in the early 2000’s, it was clear that he was taking on more authoritarian motives and the promises he had made to those who voted for him were merely empty promises which he never planned to fill. He monopolized the oil industry and grew Venezuela’s budget nearly eight times larger than it had been since he first took office, but the money he promised for building up the impoverished areas and aiding the working class, was going elsewhere for the benefit of him and his officials.

By Chavez’s second full term, the leftist socialism which the people voted for to save their democracy, was completely gone and Chavez had implemented an authoritarian rule as he concentrated his power, was responsible for the erosion of some human rights, and the prosecution of Venezuelans critical of his party. Chavez had made an appearance of being a “savior” to the democracy and to the people of his country, but after expanding his governmental power, the socialist democracy which made so many Venezuelans praised and supported, had turned into a just as corrupt and authoritarian rule.

Not a wall, but an echo chamber at the border

A confrontational, manipulative populist? No, I am not referring to Donald Trump. While these words certainly apply to Mr. Trump, you may be surprised to learn that they also apply to the frontrunner in the current Mexican elections, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly referred to as AMLO. Many believe that Obrador’s election would create a similar effect in the Mexican system as Donald Trump’s election created in the United States. Like Donald Trump, Obrador garners very mixed reviews from the Mexican people. Some people consider him a savior and are drawn to his honest and raw oration, whereas others are offended and fearful of both him and his rhetoric, quite often comparing his narcissistic and authoritarian tendencies to Hugo Chavez.

Obrador was the former Mayor of Mexico City from 2000-2005. He proceeded to run for the presidency in 2006 and 2012. Obrador returned to the political sphere as a result of Trump’s election in 2016. Trump’s overwhelming anti-Mexican immigration plans and threat to abandon NAFTA have caused the Mexican election to turn into a contest of anti-Americanism. Realizing the threat Trump’s United States posed on Mexico, Obrador quickly began campaigning, traveling and holding rallies around Mexico and the United States. Obrador lost in his two previous campaigns for president. But this time seems different. Presenting himself as the only politician who can and will stand up to Trump, Obrador is convincing many people to buy into his plan. Trump’s threatening language towards Mexico is, ironically, empowering Obrador, another vociferous populist. Many Mexican voters are drawn to the idea of having their own alpha male on Mexico’s side of the border.

Obrador’s strategic populist rhetoric gives him an iron-grasp on Mexico’s poor. The more ignorant population is deceived by his impractical promises and view Obrador as their savior. It is simple. He makes people believe him. Obrador uses the democratic inexperience of poorer Mexicans to his advantage. His evident conviction and accommodationist language draws a huge following. His presence creates an electric pandemonium and his promises inspire excitement for the future among his followers.

To his supporters, he is eternally the hero who gave pensions to the desperate elderly and helped address Mexico City’s traffic problems as the mayor of the city. They are willing to turn a blind eye to his more questionable actions, such as refusing to accept the outcome of the 2006 election and declaring himself the “legitimate president” of Mexico.

One rally attendee stated that he rarely even voted in Mexican elections let alone participate in a rally. He further states that he firmly believes that Obrador is the only person who can protect Mexico. His belief harkens back to the “savior” element of populists. During the 2006 election, Obrador made promises to cut government waste, and expand welfare programs, promises which appealed to the millions of Mexican who live on less than $5 per day. While Obrador’s strength is definitely this connection to the poor, his weakness lies in his lofty promises and utopian plans. These could spell his downfall.

Obrador promises new schools, roads, hospitals, oil refineries, improved electricity, clean water, health subsidies for the poor, scholarships for the young and most importantly jobs. Yet Obrador is completely incapable of explaining how he will make good on his commitments. Does this remind you of a certain plan for a wall? Critics find his economic plans unrealistic as the magnitude of funds Obrador would need to finance his programs simply do not exist. To the informed eye, Obrador’s economic program is clearly too ideal and optimistic. But his millions of supporters do not all possess this “informed eye.”

Ultimately, some Mexicans are enchanted by Obrador, while others remain disillusioned and scared. While poorer Mexicans tend to be excited by Obrador’s promises to improve their lives, wealthier Mexicans hear this message as a threat to enterprise, institutions and the elite business class. To some, he is the champion of the common man. To others he is an arrogant, power-hungry threat to Mexico. Obrador is currently the favorite to win the election. If he does finally prevail, it will set up quite an interesting showdown. It all comes down to July 2018.

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