The most recent report by AlertaVenezuela, An Ignored Tragedy, confronts us with several worrying findings. One of them has to do with the expectations of the population in the face of a possible change of government and the way in which this could impact the behavior of irregular armed groups with control of territory and governance capacity in Venezuela.
When, during the investigation, some interviewees were asked what could happen to these irregular armed groups in the hypothetical scenario that the opposition wins the 2024 elections, the interviewees almost unanimously used expressions such as “disaster”, “chaos”, “it would generate resistance”, “it would be horrible for the border”, “it could give rise to an armed conflict”.
These responses arose without hesitation from people who live in areas subject to the territorial control of irregular armed groups and who for years have suffered the rigors of their domination. They are not their sympathizers; they are their victims, but they have also learned that these groups are providing them with a certain security that was denied by ineffective and corrupt government officials.
What the responses of these interviewees show is that a scenario of peaceful submission of the irregular armed groups to a possible authority different from the one that has held power in Venezuela for the last two decades is not envisioned. The only reason why the irregular armed groups that have proliferated in the country do not challenge power is because they know that they can continue carrying out their illicit businesses as long as they do not cross that intangible limit that separates focused power from official power.
The subjugation of irregular armed groups and the recovery of territorial control is not an issue that worries those who hold power. On the contrary, these are groups that are functional to them. They are their brave dogs, and they are not going to muzzle them, because they are there to intimidate real or perceived opponents, without generating political costs for the government in terms of human rights.
For its part, the opposition does not seem to want to talk about the existence of irregular armed groups that control territory, either out of ignorance and fear of the unknown, or because it feels incapable of handling the situation and fears that it could become a Pandora’s box.
If the opposition has any interest in recovering democracy and institutionality, it cannot ignore the issue and must prepare now to start considering the existence of these actors. It is not a question of including a representative of an armed group at the table in Mexico, but of beginning to think seriously about transition strategies that take into account the existence of irregular armed actors, especially those who have territorial control and capacity of governance.
It is imperative to begin exploring mechanisms and experiences for the demobilization of armed groups and the gradual recovery of the territory with viable insertion alternatives for those who exercise armed control. The international community can support with experiences and facilitate workshops in which alternatives are examined.