A Criminal Hybrid State

 In keeping with our routine we’ll be doing another reprise of Venezuela : Down The Rabbit Hole to lend perspective to the disaster that is Venezuela under 21st Century Bolivarian Socialism. Apologies to our long-time followers if it’s a bit tedious but, although you can just stop each day after the current news, I’ve found that each time I review it I discover something I had forgotten that’s worth remembering. Regardless, we’ll get started on that tomorrow. For today it’s all current news so, shall we…

Our first offering is from Insight Crime and is from a five-part series on the creation of the “Criminal Hybrid State” in Venezuela. Here’s the Cliffs Notes version…

 When Hugo Chavez died in 2013 a perfect storm of crises was looming on the horizon. Nicolas Maduro had neither the popular appeal nor the support within Chavismo and the military that Chavez had leveraged to maintain unity and ensconce himself in power. (FYI, the economy was already on the brink of collapse when Chavez died due to the disastrous policies of 21st Century Bolivarian Socialism.)

 Maduro’s response to the situation was to build a converging relationship of the Venezuelan State with armed groups and organized crime. Today criminal groups and corrupt state actors together form a hybrid state that combines governance with criminality, and where illegal armed groups act at the service of the state, while criminal networks form within it.

 Chavez left Maduro some good building blocks for what exists today through his relationship with guerilla groups like FARC and ELN as well as the ‘colectivos’. Even before taking power in 1999, Chavez cultivated ties with Colombia’s rebel insurgencies.

 What began as ideological support evolved into exchanges of resources and services such as arms, supplies, and money laundering and Venezuela provided safe haven for the groups in the border areas with Colombia for decades.

 In the cities Chavista support goes to the ‘colectivos’, armed motorcycle gangs, who are allowed to operate with impunity in return for the gangs acting as de facto state security forces whenever there is civil unrest giving the government “plausible deniability” for any violence committed against protesters. In some areas the ‘colectivos’ are also involved in the distribution of Maduro’s totally fraudulent CLAP government food program.

 In the mining regions the gangs are referred to as ‘sindicatos’ and have been patronized and protected by the Chavistas since the early Chavez years. Their influence was enhanced in 2017 when Maduro created the “Mining Arc”.

 Instead of providing more government control in the lawless area, the “Mining Arc” is loosely controlled by the military and the ‘sindicatos’, as well as other armed gangs, operate openly, often with the cooperation of the military, and illegal mining is rampant causing irreparable harm to the environment and indigenous peoples. It’s another example of the hybrid economy, part criminal, part state-controlled.

 Throughout the country you also have hybrid governance in the prison system. Just as the government is unable (or unwilling) to control violence in Venezuela in general, it was unable (or unwilling) to control violence in the prison system.

 The Chavista’s solution was to cede control inside the prisons to gang bosses known as ‘pranes’. The control, and profit from, the movement of everything in and out of the prisons including visitors, basic essentials like food, and contraband such as drugs and alcohol.

 The precedent of hybrid governance between the ‘pranes’ and the state expanded outside the prisons with “Peace Zone” agreements. Government security forces withdrew from gang-held territories in return for pledges to reduce violence and a new era of criminal governance began for many communities.

 Then you have the emergence of the most important and powerful state embedded criminal network of the Chavez era (and subsequently Maduro), the Cartel of the Suns, named after the sun insignia on the uniforms of military generals.

 Headed by Diosdado Cabello, thought by many to be the most powerful man in Venezuela, who also heads Maduro’s National Assembly, the Cartel of the Suns is no longer just involved in transportation and distribution of cocaine but, with the addition of growing and production facilities, is a true transnational drug cartel.

 In Maduro’s new hybrid criminal state almost anything is possible. Drug traffickers finance public works, ‘colectivos’ run public services, ‘pranes’ coordinate prisoner transfers, and gangs set up foundations that receive state funding for everything from sports programs to medical clinics.

 With the election of leftist leaders in various South American countries Maduro now has public figures advocating for “normalization” of relations with his corrupt, criminal regime. The question he now faces is, can he put the criminal genie back in the bottle?

 We’ll be back tomorrow with more current news and to get started with chapter one of Venezuela : Down The Rabbit Hole. Until tomorrow…


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