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Venezuela’s Endless Crisis: Foreign Affairs

Venezuela’s Endless Crisis: Foreign Affairs
Source: Foreign Affairs

For a glimpse into Venezuela’s future, look at Arauquita, a remote Colombian border town of about 5,000 people. In May, thousands of bedraggled Venezuelan refugees from neighboring Apure State started arriving in Arauquita with grim stories of aerial bombings and house-to-house searches by Venezuelan soldiers. A tiny war had broken out in the region, pitting the army loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro against the Tenth Front—a dissident faction of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Colombia’s Marxist rebel group turned drug trafficking cartel, which years earlier had crossed the border and effectively taken over a section of Apure State.

The reasons for the fighting remain shrouded in uncertainty—it might have stemmed from a dispute over the profits of the Tenth Front’s drug smuggling routes. But the outcome of the clashes has been more revealing, even shocking: the capacity of the Venezuelan state is so limited that it cannot dislodge the FARC fighters. The Tenth Front remains the de facto authority in the area despite the Maduro government’s display of firepower.

The battles in Apure State may be a sign of things to come. The Venezuelan regime is not just a military dictatorship but also a criminal enterprise. Rather than a Weberian rational-bureaucratic state, what Maduro leads is a loose confederation of criminal chieftainships where he plays the role of capo di tutti capi—the boss of bosses. Normally, Maduro is able to arbitrate disputes between his captains. But sometimes, as in Apure, the system breaks down and violence erupts.

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Moises Naim is a Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Chief International Columnist for El País.

Francisco Toro is Chief Content Officer at the Group of Fifty, Founder of Caracas Chronicles, and a Global Opinion Columnist at The Washington Post.


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