Five years after Hugo Chavez declared that civilian gun ownership was banned in Venezuela, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has decided that the country’s Constitution itself will be banned and rewritten. The “Bolivarian Revolution,” which began with the democratic election of Chavez in 1999, has now descended into dictatorship, with opposition party leaders jailed, opposition protests in the street met with violence from the pro-Maduro street gangs, and millions of opposition voices discounted and discarded as illegitimate.
The United States has announced new sanctions on Venezuela, while the Organization of American States says it will investigate possible crimes against humanity. Neither are likely to change the course that Maduro has charted for the country. It’s very likely that the only thing that can stop the emboldened dictator is the grassroots opposition within the country itself. Venezuela’s economy is already in the tank, so additional sanctions (even those directed against Maduro himself) aren’t likely to have a major impact on the regime. In fact, Maduro and his lackeys may use the sanctions as part of their ongoing propaganda campaign, which blames the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel and capitalists around the globe for Venezuela’s economic collapse. Meanwhile, the OAS can investigate Venezuela all it wants, but it doesn’t have the power or authority to actually prosecute any crimes against humanity it may uncover. The opposition in Venezuela may enjoy the moral support and praise of the international community, but that and $50,000 will buy you a cup of coffee in Caracas.
Back in April, around the time Moreno’s young life was taken by the colectivos, Maduro promised “a gun for every militiaman” willing to turn that gun on a member of the opposition.Meanwhile, for members of the opposition, life grows more dangerous by the day. Maduro hasn’t called out the military to crush the street protests yet, and he may not have to take such a drastic step. Instead of uniformed soldiers, Maduro is relying on the colectivos—gangs with no formal relationship to the regime but plenty of behind-the-scenes support. Maduro has been arming his supporters, while making sure that the opposition is disarmed. The colectivos show up on their motorcycles, guns in hand, and woe to any protestor who falls within their sights. In April, 17-year-old Carlos Moreno died amidst a hail of bullets fired by Maduro’s thugs at a group of protestors. In 2016, Eladio Mata, who was representing union workers at the University Hospital of Caracas, was shot by colectivos while the union was trying to reach a deal with the hospital. And just a few weeks ago, dozens of colectivos stormed the Venezuelan National Assembly and beat opposition politicians and members of the media, as well as ordinary civilians trapped inside.
Besides the colectivos, the political opposition also has to contend with hundreds of thousands of militia members armed by Maduro. Back in April, around the time Moreno’s young life was taken by the colectivos, Maduro promised “a gun for every militiaman” willing to turn that gun on a member of the opposition. The opposition, disarmed by law in the name of public safety, are left with the promise to their supporters that if they are killed, they won’t die in vain.
Some will undoubtedly argue that Venezuelans are better off with the country’s gun control laws in place. After all, if the opposition were armed, they might be able to fight back against the brutality of the regime. That could lead to an all-out civil war, with tremendous casualties on both sides.
As horrible as that outcome might be, is the establishment of a despotic regime willing to use government forces and criminal gangs to wantonly kill in order to stay in power really preferable? Looking back, it was that decision by the Venezuelan government to ban civilian firearm possession in 2012, and the lack of outrage and opposition at the time, that has enabled and encouraged the Maduro regime to act with such impunity today. Perhaps one day, when and if the Bolivarian Revolution collapses, the Venezuelan people will enshrine their right to keep and bear arms in a new Constitution that will be written with freedom, not government control, in mind.
Cam Edwards is the host of “Cam & Co.,” which airs live 2-5 p.m. EST on NRATV and midnight EST on SiriusXM Patriot 125. He lives with his family on a small farm near Farmville, Va. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @camedwards.