Venezuela and the origin of political violence in Latin America

Lautaro Rivara writes a reflection for Batalla de ideas on the assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the growing militarization of politics and the origins and reach of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

August 17, 2018 by Lautaro Rivara

The assassination of over 400 social leaders in Colombia since the signing of peace agreements in Havana, Cuba. The political imprisonment of Lula da Silva and the possibility of an upcoming election where the options for people will be completely restricted (a real déjà vu for all the Argentines who remember the times of Peronist Resistance). The oiled gears of law fare, with an emboldened judicial party, having taken down Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, seeking to corner Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, Mauricio Funes in El Salvador, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and many other political figures. A succession of coup d’états that have gone unpunished this century: Haiti in 2004, Honduras in 2009, Paraguay in 2012 and Brazil in 2015. The raids perpetrated in Bolivia by the white oligarchy and the separatist attempt of the rich States of the so-called “Crescent” in the context of constituent debates in the year 2008. The genocide by the narco-states or paramilitary forces in countries like Mexico, Colombia or El Salvador, often revealed only after the dreadful discovery of  mass graves. The growing internal militarization, with the experimental occupation of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the militarization of the Chilean Araucanía in the dirty war against the Mapuche community, and the recent change of the military doctrine in Argentina. The militarization on a continental scale, through the new military cooperation agreements that use the alleged war against against terrorism and drug trafficking as a pretext; the revival of the Southern Command and the Fourth Fleet; the projection of new Yankee bases in the region; and Colombia’s entry into NATO. The painful murders of indigenous, black and people’s leaders such as Berta Cáceres in Honduras, Marielle Franco in Brazil and Robert Serra in Venezuela.

After all these atrocities, and after the combined and extensive repertoire of assaults against the Bolivarian Venezuela (coup d’état, oil strike, economic war, rioting, etc.), we add to the list the blatant, hopeless and desperate attempt to kill the president of the republic and the most important people’s leader of the region. The failed attempt of assassination against Nicolas Maduro saw explosive devices in two drones burst near the stage where the president and senior officers of the armed forces were located during the celebration of the 81st anniversary of the Venezuelan National Guard. It was neither just “noises” as CNN and the CIA press office described it, nor was it an “isolated explosion” that the Associated Press referred to as part of their distracting maneuvers.


This analysis seeks to be more than just a recounting of injustices and calamities. Rather, it is about the emergence of new forms of political confrontation in Latin America and the Caribbean caused by the local and transnational bourgeoisie and the imperialist forces. And we are talking only about what has happened in this lukewarm “Democratic spring” that our continent experienced in the last few decades (it would be useless to remember the crude winter of Operation Condor and the thousands of assassinated and disappeared by counterinsurgency). We speak, in short, of the growing trend wherein the peaceful and political-electoral routes for the resolution of our battles are more and more constricted. In an article on the Colombian peace agreements and the rise of paramilitary violence in Venezuela, we had pointed out the paradox that the first day of peace in one country could coincide with the start of a war in the other. Today, a little more pessimistically, we see the strengthening of war as an unstoppable trend in several countries.

In Our America, the internal radicalization of the domestic and transnational bourgeoisie has produced a moment in which two processes coincide: the judicialization and paramilitarization of politics. What does not fall to the ground with the hammer of the judiciary, will be hit with the military club (always protected of course, by the favorable coverage by the increasingly monopolized media corporations). The poor and working classes and their political instruments seek, rightfully, to peacefully redirect the political struggle, rejecting the provocations and struggling in the democratic-electoral sphere. But, as it is known, it takes two to play chess, and no one will keep playing with the pieces scattered on the floor.

This phenomena is also related to the global emergence of a new ultraconservative, fascist, xenophobic and misogynist right-wing that competes for hegemony with the neoliberal-globalist bourgeois fractions. Its exponents have already ceased to be residual figures in Latin American politics and today, have even good or moderate electoral prospects (Bolsonaro in Brazil, Kast in Chile, Trujillo in Dominican Republic, etc.). The global decline of US hegemony and the complete realignment of planetary geopolitics will only reinforce the political-military lines of action of the United States in our region – as a counterweight to the depletion of its capacity for economic and diplomatic influence. There are no concerted resources or will for the long leash of good neighbor policies or for “Alliances for Progress”. For some, no doubt, the hour of the sword has rung again.


We know that history is made up of tendencies and structures, but also of facts of singular significance and importance that act as what the Argentine Marxist Hernández Arregui called “historical detonators”. What took place on Saturday, August 4, was one of those sudden and fatal events that pushes the story forward. Last Saturday, if the assassination attempt against Nicholas Maduro had been successful, it could have changed everything, catapulting us to a new stage of political struggle in our America. Let us recall, for example, the still-present consequences of the assassination of populist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which changed Colombian history forever and plunged the nation into one of the world’s most extensive armed conflicts. An assassination is a crime against the people as their leader is always a national representation and an agglomeration of desires. What could be taking place in the populous west Caracas if this had happened? The Venezuelans, brave people, would certainly be on the streets, infuriated, and deaf to the caution and reasons of the strategist. And the right-wing, always seeking to profit with chaos, would be seizing the confusion to unleash the longed civil war that they failed to impose during the last rioting in Venezuela in 2017. The situation in Venezuela has often been compared to the harassment suffered by the Chile of Salvador Allende. It would do us good to look at Syria and the other countries of the Middle East to glimpse at the solution to the “Venezuelan problem” sought by imperialism and its consular partners.

When in five, ten or fifteen years, the intellectuals of the establishment strongly condemn the violence unleashed from the popular classes, it would be advisable to remember this brief summary of events. Political, reactive, small-scale and deferred violence in the time of the popular classes will be the unavoidable result if we fail to reverse the progressive narrowing of democratic exits. If we are to rely on Gramsci’s lucid analysis and the reading of the historical cycles in Latin America and the Caribbean, we will know that either by the rise of the mass struggle or by the desperate radicalization of the conservative forces, the military moment will remain an inescapable one in the political struggle. It would be naive, or rather suicidal, not to have that in our horizon of hypothesis and possibilities.

Tomorrow, when someone asks with naivety or bad faith, who started the violence, we must remember the trail of events that lead us to the precipice of war without barracks. We must be aware that we live in a historical moment in which the commodification of all spheres of life has extended to the commodification of death itself, and recall the civil wars and the paramilitarism amid the conditions of accumulation by important sectors of the dominant classes. We hope that at decisive events, we can have the temperance of Maduro, who stood firm and serene in the moment that his life was threatened. Even in the midst of the storms, we will need that calm to re-channel our yearnings for justice, peace, sovereignty and socialism through the less painful way.