A Major General Mess; How Venezuela Became a Narco-State Run by the Military

By: Martin Rodil

Venezuela is a proud country, a beautiful country.  It is a country with outstanding potential, blessed with abundant natural resources and a creative and resilient people.  Yet over the last few decades, my country has been turned into a despotic, military-run, corrupt, narco-criminal state; and possibly the greatest failure in the Americas.


Simon Bolivar, the great Libertador, who famously played a major role in establishing Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru as sovereign states, was one of the great military strategists. His success was based on a holistic and honed understanding of the aspects surrounding war, as well as on his renowned ability to inspire, unite, and mobilize. For Venezuelans, there is no greater thinker or leader than Bolivar. He is the Father of our Homeland.  


And just as George Washington knew that a successful new nation demands a clear separation between the military and civilian government, Simon Bolivar was unequivocal when he stated that, “The military system is of force, and force is not government”.   

How our great leader must be rolling in his grave today.

Venezuela’s modern history has been characterized by military interventions and violent takeovers.  Hugo Chavez, made his name by first attempting a coup d’etat against president Carlos Andres Perez back in 1992 when he was a lieutenant colonel.  Later, in 1999, Chavez became president, and ever since, Venezuelans have watched martial influence creep first into politics, and then its civil society.

Initially, Chavez allowed the active military to vote in his new constitution, and extended the National Armed Forces’ role beyond the military by assigning them community work; nothing ground breaking or particularly controversial.  However, very quickly, the new dictator began to place military figures as directors of major nationalized corporations to control many of Venezuela’s basic industries and large companies, some of which had been previously expropriated. 

A significantly high proportion of Chavez’s ministers, as well as hand-picked governors and mayors, who ran his socialist party PSUV were former military people, some of whom had participated in his coup attempt.

Chavez, whose paranoid personality determined that he was not going to make the same mistake as his predecessors, kept the most respected military leaders close, and of course ‘incentivized’.   As a result, the majority of high ranking military officials openly sided with him, declaring themselves and the military institution they represented “Bolivarian”, “Revolutionary”, and “Chavista”.   The army thus very quickly developed from the protector of a nation, to the protector of Chavez.

The “militarization of politics” under Chavez stood in direct contradiction to the written word of the Venezuelan Constitution which clearly states that the National Armed Forces are "essentially professional, without political militancy institution", which are at the "exclusive service of the nation, and in no case to a person or political partiality." 

Upon the death of the charismatic Chavez, his less talented successor, Nicolas Maduro, decided to ‘double down’.  Maduro indeed appears to have one unique talent; taking failed policies of his predecessor, and making them even worse.  The weak and incompetent Maduro lacks any sort of public legitimacy, and so, just like Chavez, he now turns to the military, introducing them to every part of daily life.  

The first major shock was back in July 2016, when Maduro announced that all the ministries and state institutions would have to answer to Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Defense Minister.  Due to the severe shortages of food and medicine – a result of a failed Socialist system and horrendous economic mismanagement – Maduro created the "Great Mission for Sovereign and Safe Supply”, and handed over full economic power to Padrino Lopez.  Lopez was therefore responsible for pharmacies, food, commercial distribution, and the management of the country’s ports. There is indeed another country nearby which operates under the same model, in which its armed forces have a monopoly over the main sectors of the economy.  That is Cuba; hardly a success story!

The result of these moves is that the army is profiting from the poverty of the people.  They control supply.  They choose who eats, and who starves; who shall live, and who shall die.  They hold onto all the basic staples and sell them at much higher prices than even those set by the civilian government. Food trafficking has therefore become huge business in Venezuela. 

Keeping the families of the military well fed is actually one of the few strategies Maduro successfully implements.  By giving absolute power to the military, the illegitimate president is able to keep them quiet and obedient.

This loyalty translates into fierce protection of the regime, often manifesting in the form of the brutal suppression of demonstrations, sometimes with live gun fire, and often even featuring heavy weaponry in the midst of perfectly peaceful protests.  Ahead of a large demonstration held by the opposition back in October, Defense Minister Padrino Lopez declared unconditional loyalty to the Chavista regime by openly inciting that “the real purpose of the demonstration is to overthrow the legitimately established government”.

It is truly inspiring that so many thousands of Venezuelans are still brave enough to come out and protest in the face of the live bullets of the regime, and in the knowledge that if captured, they are going straight to one of Maduro’s infamous dungeons.

So with the military involved in all walks of Venezuelan life, they certainly wouldn’t want to be left out of the ‘most lucrative’: Drug trafficking.

Over the last decade, Venezuela has become the most important distribution hub for drug trafficking in the Americas. It has been reported that over 200 tons of cocaine pass through the South American country every year.  That is 40% of the world’s consumption.   Back in 2013, French police seized 1.3 tons of cocaine in 31 briefcases on an Air France flight from Caracas.  Among the traffickers, three were from the military.   In 2015, the DEA arrested Venezuela’s first lady Cilia Flores’ nephews in Haiti for attempting to smuggle 800 kg of cocaine into the US in a private jet.  That jet was piloted by non-other than an active lieutenant colonel of the Venezuelan Air Force. The nephews also planned to use the presidential hangar in Maiquetia Airport (Caracas) to load the drugs, under the watchful eye of the army.

More recently, in the summer, a New York court indicted Nestor Reverol, a Major General and former director of the National Anti-Drug Office of Venezuela, for trafficking drugs to the United States. In response, deliberately mocking the US, Maduro named Reverol – who is also in business with the new Vice President Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah – as his Interior Minister, adding yet another element to the military bolstered Socialist dictatorship.  

In the early 1800s, Simon Bolivar issued some groundbreaking decrees against corruption and a military government.  Two hundred years later, two Socialist despots have systematically turned Venezuela, the most beautiful of countries, into a corrupt, military run, narco-criminal state.  

Martin Rodil is President of the Washington based Venezuelan American Leadership Country