The balkanization of Venezuela?

Venezuelans Protest
durdaneta from Caracas, Venezuela [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Several Venezuelan academicians from diverse background and political tendencies have suggested that Venezuela is on the way to a balkanization process.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela could cease to exist as we know it today, to the point that –ex-Congressman Luis Florido asked in a letter in 2018: “to avoid the Balkanization of Venezuela and demand that the FAN fulfill their Constitutional role”. Emilio Figueredo, Venezuelan lawyer, and former diplomat, and Alexander Campos, academic at the Central University of Venezuela are only some of the experts that have suggested that Venezuela is on the way to a balkanization process. There are even analysts in the Venezuelan left who have already warned about this, as is the case of José Negrón Valera (Sputnik). In geopolitical and strategic terms, the concept of balkanization is used to refer to the process of disintegration of a state. The dismemberment of Yugoslavia is the main reference of Balkanization.

Academic Alexander Campos says (Contrapunto): “[the Venezuelan State] is not able to control its territory. On the borders, there is more effective control of drug trafficking groups and guerrilla groups than of the State itself. In the east of the country drug trafficking rules. The ‘mega gangs’ are in some way reaching an agreement with the police bodies of the State. I am a social scientist and my duty is to think about trends.”

The lack of effective control of the Venezuelan State, the existence of a para state (shock troops) and the expansionist geopolitical claims of neighboring countries are only some of the factors that could facilitate a process of state disintegration. Today, the State is not able to enforce the law in the peripheral and bordering areas of the country, where cross-border crimes and the number of criminal mafias have increased. The police and the military sector are often subordinated to shock groups, better known as collectives. According to Max Weber: “The State is the human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence within a given territory”. In Venezuela, the State shares the legitimate use of violence with the shock troops. It has lost its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence.

Fortunately, regionalisms are still not exacerbated in Venezuela, at least not at the level of nineteenth-century Venezuela, a period in which regional identity and the consciousness that emanated from it prevailed. In Venezuela, there are also no strong ethnic tensions and fissures between the different regions of the country. Since the government of Juan Vicente Gómez, a national identity and a political-administrative division have been consolidated. Before Gómez, the notion of national identity was very weak in Venezuela. Beyond some regions like Zulia, the national identity undoubtedly outweighs the regional one. And we hope that it will continue this way for a long time: regionalism is one of the factors that could facilitate a balkanization.

Surrounded by neighbors such as Brazil and Colombia, Venezuela is in the middle of a very risky situation, now more than ever. The migratory crisis, the hyperinflation and the growing international isolation of Caracas limit the response range of the South American country. Historically, Brazil and Colombia have had an expansionist geopolitical vision on Venezuela. In the case of Colombia, it still claims its sovereignty over the Gulf of Venezuela, indispensable for the whole national economy. This is a diplomatic issue that has not yet been resolved.

Over time, the balkanization of Venezuela has become more likely. Following the controversial swearing-in ceremony of Juan Guaidó and the recent round of the US sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, Venezuela now has two presidents and two governments. A parallel governmental opposition structure is being created with the objective of finally removing Nicolás Maduro from power. Juan Guaidó is going to manage the assets of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on the US soil, such as CITGO. The National Assembly of Venezuela (the Venezuelan Parlament) is supported by the Western world.

If the crisis in Venezuela continues to escalate, the consequences can be catastrophic for the Venezuelan nation-state. Balkanization processes can be very complicated, and even unpredictable. Although many could surely suppose that Venezuela is going to be divided into two parts; some have suggested that the country may even split into three or four parts; each one with a lesser or greater degree of recognition from the international community; depending on the alignment of these new the states with foreign powers such as the United States, China, the European Union, Russia, and others. Venezuela has entered into a truly dangerous situation.

Will ever Venezuelans be able to find a way out of this?

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