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Mary Anastasia O’Grady: Cuba’s Proxy War in Venezuela

People march against President Nicolas Maduro in San Cristobal, Tachira State, Venezuela, on May 20, 2017.
Venezuelan protesters and supporters of embattled President Nicolas Maduro take to the streets Saturday as a deadly political crisis plays out in a divided country on the verge of paralysis. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ROBAYO

The commitment to Maduro among soldiers and police is breaking down.

If you want to truly address the issues destroying Venezuela and its people, you have to get to the root cause of the problems: Cuba. For all intents and purposes, Cuba’s Castro dictatorship has taken over Venezuela and until the world recognizes this, Venezuela will continue to deteriorate.

Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro is responding to mass demonstrations by selectively killing civilians. If, as a result, some branch of the military breaks with the regime, the country will descend into civil war. But until then it’s a one-sided slaughter.

It’s also a Cuban proxy war. More than a dozen high-ranking Cuban officers are said to be in Venezuela, along with thousands of Cuban intelligence agents. Their job is to keep Venezuelan army officers under constant surveillance to prevent the feared military uprising to restore democracy. If the international community wants to head off disaster, a good place to start would be in Havana.

On Thursday Miami’s El Nuevo Herald reported it has a recording of Venezuelan generals—at a meeting in Barquisimeto three weeks ago—“giving orders to use snipers to control demonstrators.” According to the Herald they did so “with the argument that they find themselves on the threshold of a civil war.”

Maybe the generals know something not yet acknowledged publicly—that the commitment to Mr. Maduro among the nation’s soldiers and police is breaking down.

It happened once before, in April 2002, when snipers backing the regime picked off protesters during a demonstration in Caracas. When some members of the army refused to help then-President Hugo Chávez crack down on the crowd, he was forced to step aside, albeit temporarily.

Once back in power, Chávez accelerated the recruitment and arming of paramilitaries. Thousands now show up at antigovernment protests, firing weapons into crowds and using their motorcycles to run down demonstrators. If the Cubans remain the power behind the throne, there will be no one to stop these trained killers from slitting the throats of the opposition.

The possibility of a break inside the armed forces seems to be on the rise. As the Journal’s Anatoly Kurmanaev reported on Wednesday, National Guard riot police are worn down from taking on thousands of street protesters almost daily since the beginning of April. Rank-and-file soldiers also are not immune to the hardship and hunger caused by Mr. Maduro’s senseless economic policies. They say they too are underpaid and underfed.

The dictatorship is clearly worried about this and recognizes it will lose a war of attrition. One source in Caracas who marched in the streets Thursday observed a noted increase in regime repression.

In recent weeks government enforcers also have launched attacks on lower middle-class neighborhoods where Maduro critics live. They break down gates and doors, rampage through apartment complexes, fire tear-gas canisters through windows and loot homes.

On May 7 the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported that between April 4 and May 5 the National Guard, together with National Bolivarian Police and chavista militia, invaded 11 different residential areas in Caracas. One family of four in the El Paraíso district, requesting anonymity, told of how they cowered together in a bathroom for eight hours to keep from being asphyxiated by the tear gas that had inundated the rest of their apartment.

It wasn’t the first blitz on the building complex known as Terrazas del Paraíso. On April 19 pro-government thugs smashed an iron grille to get in and rob one of the neighbors. On April 26 civilian-clothed militia entered the complex and fired rubber bullets, injuring some residents. “But it was to frighten us, because they didn’t steal anything,” one of the victims told the newspaper.

On May 11 El Nacional reported that since this most recent wave of protests began, state security forces and paramilitary have engaged in similar violence and theft against 13 condominiums in six cities including Maracay, Valencia, Barquisimeto and Merida. Forty-seven people have been killed in the violence perpetrated by the antiriot squads and paramilitary madmen since early April.

This is state terrorism. But it may not have its intended effect. Most of the country is solidly against the government, and this includes low-income Venezuelans, once the base for chavismo. Paradoxically the repression seems to be strengthening opposition resolve. Perhaps Venezuelans have reached a tipping point. They will get new elections and freedom for political prisoners, or are ready to die trying.

The brutality also may be eroding the confidence of the men and women in uniform. Many seem not to have the stomach for the cruelty their Cuban handlers expect from their South American protégés. On May 5 opposition leader Henrique Capriles said 85 members of the armed forces, including some young captains and sergeants, had been detained by the regime for criticizing the repression. On May 19 a member of the National Guard was arrested in Táchira for having crossed over to defend protesters.

The international community has the power, through sanctions, to rein in Cuba. If it fails to do so, the Venezuelan opposition will be massacred.

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