What if Caracas stole the election and Venezuelans responded by flooding the streets to protest? Would the regime do what its Iranian counterpart did in 2009? Would it be willing to perpetrate a Tiananmen-style bloodbath? For that matter, would the military and official security forces obey government orders to massacre civilian demonstrators? What if the military and police refused such orders? Would Chávez or some other Venezuelan leader call on his Bolivarian Militia to complete the task? If the militia began killing civilians, how would the military respond? Would the Bolivarian Militia and the armed forces wind up clashing violently with each other? Could that lead to an all-out civil war? And what would the Castro brothers do? Would they be willing to let the Chávez regime collapse, even if that meant potentially losing the massive Venezuelan energy subsidies that have been keeping their sclerotic dictatorship afloat?
These questions are deeply unnerving. Chávez has created a volatile powder-keg that is ready to explode under certain conditions. He has also transformed Venezuela into an Iranian satellite, which further complicates matters. As the Miami Herald recently put it, “Chávez has converted his country into a virtual headquarters for Iranian espionage in the Western Hemisphere.”
Then there is the issue of Venezuelan complicity in hemispheric drug trafficking. General Rangel and other senior military officers (including Generals Cliver Alcalá and Hugo Carvajal) have already been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for their ties to narco-gangs. Meanwhile, cocaine kingpin Walid Makled, who is now on trial in Venezuela, has claimed that dozens of Venezuelan generals and regime officials were involved in his drug business. Such officials obviously want to avoid prosecution for their crimes, and they are surely afraid (with good reason) that a democratic post-Chávez government would seek their arrest. This gives them extra motivation to help steal the 2012 election or mount some type of a coup to ensure that Chávez or Chávez loyalists remain in power.
Add it all up, and you are left with a dangerously combustible situation. The death of Chávez and/or the election victory of Capriles would present Venezuela with a historic opportunity to repair the political and economic damage of the last decade. But the threat of violence and chaos is all too real.
(You can read this article in Spanish here.)