BY ROGER NORIEGA
After Venezuela’s narcoregime survived a U.S.-backed campaign to depose Nicolas Maduro, the well-financed criminals are counterpunching. The sight of burning subway cars in Chile, violent marches in Quito, renewed armed struggle in Colombia, and repression aimed at stealing an election in Bolivia are disturbing evidence that the criminal Left will give no quarter in the struggle for power. That also was the clear message when an army of Mexican gangsters poured into the state of Sinaloa and coerced the release of “El Chapo” Guzman’s son from outgunned security forces.
Certainly, these incidents reflect very different domestic problems. However, there is a common enemy at work: revolutionary states with a decades-long track record attacking democracy and the rule of law—collaborating with transnational organized crime and commanding massive financial resources and a network of radical activists.
Street battles against “austerity measures” are not new, and protests turning violent is not unique to Latin America. However, communists and criminals in the Americas have made no secret of their destructive agenda. While Cuba once organized guerrilla wars with Soviet backing, the struggle has moved to urban street battles, funded by narcodollars and looted Venezuelan oil revenue.
In June, the 25th meeting of the Forum of São Paulo, a gathering of leftist activists from 20 countries in the Americas, attacked the “aggressive agenda” of President Sebastian Piñera in Chile, denounced the “reactionary offensive” of President Lenin Moreno in Ecuador, and endorsed the unconstitutional candidacy of Evo Morales in Bolivia.
The final communique from the meeting in Caracas also condemned the “genocide” in Colombia and the recycled “neoliberals, authoritarians, and profascists,” naming presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Mauricio Macri of Argentina, Ivan Duque of Colombia, and several others.
Earlier this month, referring to the unrest in several countries whose governments have criticized Venezuela’s narcoregime, the dictator Nicolas Maduro declared that the Forum’s plans “are advancing perfectly.” His cohort Diosdado Cabello bragged gleefully, “This is just a gentle breeze, with the hurricane coming now.”
The Organization of American States did not equivocate, blaming “the recent currents of destabilization” on the “Bolivarian and Cuban dictatorships.” This October 16th statement, issued by the current OAS Secretary General, Uruguayan Luis Almagro, rebuked Cabello’s warnings, saying, “For years, the Venezuelan dictatorship, with the support of the Cuban dictatorship, institutionalized sophisticated co-optation, repression, destabilization and media propaganda structures in the region.”
Of course, there are legitimate grievances that have fostered discontent in the region. However, the role of willful dictators in the region in manipulating that discontent into a political weapon cannot be dismissed. Indeed, these regimes excel at stoking popular unrest to advance their political agendas.
Their mastery in internal security tactics has enabled them to subdue their countries, even as they have destroyed them. Rough estimates are that chavista insiders, with Cuban involvement, have looted $350 billion—a fraction of the $5-7 billion in annual Soviet subsidies that kept the Castro regime afloat while it was sowing mayhem in Central America. Stoking mob violence is much cheaper and exacts a heavy price on democratic leaders trying to preserve order without shedding blood.
Flush with cash and led by criminal caudillos for 20 years, today the Venezuelan narcoregime is integrated fully into a transnational organized crime network. Smashing government institutions and destroying security forces are part of their criminal business model. So, too, is funding corrupt political parties and candidates, propping up corrupt leaders, and attacking anyone who gets in the way.
There may be little U.S. diplomacy can do to help a government grapple with domestic woes. However, U.S. political support, intelligence sharing, law enforcement resources, and aid dollars should be mobilized to detect, expose, and counteract criminal interference. At the very least, the United States must encourage Mexico’s president to adopt a credible internal security policy to confront organized crime groups operating with virtual impunity today. A large-scale breakdown in order in Mexico has staggering implications for U.S. border security and economic well-being.
Chilean leader Piñera should make clear that, while he has overhauled his cabinet to address the legitimate grievances of the poor and middle class, he will not surrender to mob rule. Responsible Chilean leaders on the center-Left should cooperate with Piñera to shape a reform agenda; and they should declare that a president being forced from office by rioters would be a blow to Chile’s restored democracy.
Brazil’s Bolsonaro has made clear that his government is ready to quell violent protests. Still, the Workers’ Party (PT) is deeply integrated into the international Left and has massive ill-gotten resources to fuel unrest. Bolsonaro should do a better job of implementing and explaining his efforts to jumpstart and share prosperity. He must also deploy urgent measures to dismantle the criminal networks supporting the PT.
Colombia is dealing with an explosion of coca, resurgent guerrillas, and the economic impact of 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Venezuela. President Duque should invoke the Rio Treaty to counter the Venezuelan-backed terrorist groups plotting attacks and amassing fortunes from their smuggling of cocaine and gold.
The OAS should continue its efforts to prevent Morales from stealing a first-round victory in Bolivia. It remains to be seen whether an audit will detect suspected fraud, if the opposition can sustain its peaceful protests, or how far the Bolivian security forces will go to help Morales evade a runoff.
The OAS Technical Group on Transnational Organized Crime should convene a conference among willing states to share information on the movement of suspicious persons, funds, or weapons across borders to foment political violence. The United States should share what its Drug Enforcement Administration and intelligence community know about the sprawling criminal network—bankrolled by the Venezuelan narcoregime—that threatens democratic states. And all governments should commit to cooperating to investigate, expose, condemn, and dismantle that subversive foreign interference.
Like-minded governments should organize a summit of political leaders, civil society activists, and entrepreneurs to launch a constructive alternative to the Forum of São Paulo, committed to promoting economic and political freedom and individual empowerment.
Finally, as long as there is a narcostate operating in Venezuela, masterminded by Cuba, the recent upheaval in Latin America will continue. Washington must urgently overhaul its policy toward Venezuela and enlist the support of front-line states to bring to justice the criminals who lead the illegitimate regime in Caracas. And, at long last, it is time for Cuba’s dictatorship to pay a price for sowing violence against the region’s democracies.