In our 2018 Annual Forecast we wrote, "Renewed dissent alone will not pose an existential threat to the Venezuelan government unless large numbers of police or military units turn against the state." A recent raid on a militant group in Venezuela highlights the efforts of President Nicolas Maduro's administration to nip dissidence in the bud.
Venezuela's government is on a quest to root out its enemies. On Jan. 15, Venezuelan police and a colectivo, or civilian paramilitary group, raided a suspected militant hideout in Caracas. The raid targeted a militant group led by former police officer Oscar Perez that had carried out attacks last year on Venezuelan Interior Ministry headquarters and on a National Guard post. Perez was among the suspected militants killed in the bust, according to the government. Even so, the raid's political consequences may prove more significant than the event itself.
Shortly after reports of the raid emerged on social media and on news sites, Venezuela's former prisons minister posted a message on Twitter calling for the arrest of former intelligence services head and Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres. An unconfirmed report emerged Jan. 16 that the government had issued an arrest warrant for Rodriguez Torres, who allegedly supported Perez's group.
If the rumor is true, the drive to arrest Rodriguez Torres would fit in with the current Venezuelan administration's survival strategy. The government will keep trying to reduce the number of domestic threats against it so that it can focus instead on managing outside pressure, including the looming menace of heavier U.S. sanctions. Dealing with movements such as Perez's militant group before they can attract enough followers to become an existential threat is imperative for President Nicolas Maduro's administration.
Domestic dissent is nothing new for Maduro. Last year, his government removed Venezuela's attorney general after she turned against it, along with Rodriguez Torres. The Maduro administration is trying to make an example of the dissidents it arrests and exiles to discourage other officials from stepping out of line. Having contained its domestic threats, after all, the government will have more room to discuss contentious topics, such as free elections, with its political opposition and with the U.S. government.