Venezuela under Maduro:
ADierent Kind of Hybrid Regime*
Jarosl av Bílek, BarBora vališková**
One of the specic characteristics of the contemporary world is the frequent occurrence of com-
petitive authoritarianism, a new kind of political regime in which democratic institutions formally
exist, but abuse by power holders skews the playing eld against opponents. Recently, research-
ers have often been highlighting the diculty to discern competitive authoritarianism from liberal
democracy, which leads to intellectually unsustainable concept-stretching that weakens our ability
to understand political processes. Also, ano less important aw of past studies on this topic is the
insucient analysis of civil-military relations, due to which adierent kind of hybrid regime, namely
the tutelary regime, is often marked as competitive authoritarianism. In the present study, this
problem is demonstrated with analysis of the political regime of Nicolás Maduro’sVenezuela. The
results of the analysis clearly show that researchers should pay more attention to the nature of
civil-military relations when classifying political regimes in the grey zone.
Key words: Latin America; Venezuela; competitive authoritarianism; hybrid regimes; civil-military relations
DOI: 10.5817/PC2020 -1 -3
e question of ‘what will happen with the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro?’ has
been, in the context of the local burning economic-social crisis, at the centre of media
and expert attention for the past few years. Journalists, researchers, and commentators
are getting ahead of each other with inventions of scenarios of the future regime devel-
opment, while according to the majority the key epicentre of the prospective regime
earthquake is the transition of the Venezuelan military to the other side of the barricade.
* Support for this article was provided by the grant ‘e relationship between the electoral competi-
tiveness and authoritarian repressive strategies in hybrid regimes in Latin America’ (2018–2020) by the
Czech Science Foundation (no. 18-21292S).
** Jaroslav Bílek is postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Politics, University of Hradec
Králové, email@example.com, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9997-6430. Barbora Vališková is As-
sistant Professor in the Department of Politics, University of Hradec Králové, firstname.lastname@example.org,
CZECH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE / POLITOLOGICKÝ ČASOPIS 1/2020
is premise rests on anumber of commentaries that the military and its representa-
tives bestow amagical power capable of signicant destabilization or even termination
of the rule of modern-day dictators. In the case of Venezuela, which under the rule of
Chávez’ssuccessor alienates itself from the democratic universum even more, in the view
of the aforementioned interpretation, the prospective (dis)loyalty of the military may sig-
nicantly redirect the current course towards regime democratization. e Venezuelan
opposition itself, under the leadership of the auto-proclaimed provisional President Juan
Guaidó, turns to the military as their ‘brothers’ to protect the Constitution. By this dis-
course the opposition in fact places the responsibility for the tyranny only in the hands of
Maduro, who is thus supposed to be the only oppressor of the Venezuelan people. Such
conciliatory discourse, although legitimate considering the limited manoeuvring space
that Venezuelan opposition forces have at their disposal at the moment, becomes unjusti-
able for the media and expert analyses. at is because it virtually washes away the blame
and responsibility of the military itself for the current state of aairs, as it overlooks, be it
purposely or unwittingly (out of neglect), the real substance and character of the regime.
e military cannot easily desert, as currently it is they who, via their leaders, that is, their
generals, hold the tiller of rule rmly in their hands. Yet, the civil-military dimension
remains at the periphery of interest for the researchers involved in the Venezuelan regime
classication, who overlook the argument we are going to oer in this article, which is that
the military via their rule virtually stabilizes the regime.
Speaking of the assessment of the political regime in Venezuela, it must be said that the
classication of political regimes in the post-Cold War era is by no means asimple task.
e current international political situation has signicantly complicated the emergence
and preservation of explicitly authoritarian regimes, yet one cannot argue that in the ear-
ly times of the post-third wave-of-democratization world all forms of authoritarianism
would disappear. is very particular international constellation, asignicant feature of
which is the emphasis on holding competitive elections, has led to the birth of anumber
of political regimes in which democratic institutions formally exist, but their power hold-
ers in order to retain their power do not hesitate to resort to numerous non-democratic
practices which even dictators in older times would not be ashamed of. e frequent oc-
currence of such regimes, for which one may use the collective name of hybrid or mixed,
led to the birth of multiple regime types.
Competitive authoritarianism (Levitsky & Way, 2010) has become an inuential and
discussed concept even in regard to Latin America, particularly in relation to the po-
litical developments in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador aer the Pink Tide
(Mainwaring & Peréz-Liñán, 2015). Nevertheless, the contemporary discussion around
the classication of competitive authoritarianism in Latin America (Cameron, 2018) and
other parts of the world (Handlin, 2016; Bardall, 2016) shows that the borderline between
competitive authoritarianism and democracy is oen rather unclear. Plenty of regimes
are then classied incorrectly, which lowers our ability to understand social reality. Caus-
al conclusions built on incorrectly classied regimes will inevitably be biased (Handlin,
2016; Sanchez-Sibony, 2017).
An eort to clarify the line between democracy and competitive authoritarianism is
certainly astep in the right direction. Still, from our standpoint, it is asolution to only
part of the problem. In order to prevent potential concept-stretching, it is necessary to
better specify the borderline between competitive authoritarianism and other forms of
undemocratic regimes. In their work, Levitsky and Way (2010) clearly state that there are
four kinds of hybrid regimes in the grey zone between democracy and authoritarianism
(p.14). It is rather paradoxical that they themselves forget this in their theory, where they
do not account for transfers between competitive authoritarianism and other kinds of
hybrid regime (Raun, 2013, p.86).
e second important conclusion of this discussion is then arecommendation for
classication of political regimes, for which it is better to disaggregate political systems
into their components. e key question remains which components to use. e major-
ity of similar studies are oriented towards components related directly to elections (Gil-
bert & Mohseni, 2011; Sanchez-Sibony, 2017; Cameron, 2018). In the case of competi-
tive authoritarianism, such asolution is completely unsuitable as it ignores the nature of
civil-military relations in aregime. at may seem like an irrelevant detail concerning
the other kinds of undemocratic regimes. When it comes to competitive authoritarian-
ism, it is avery key detail since, in the authors’ words, it is acivilian regime (Levitsky &
Way 2010, p.5). In fact, making an exact classication of competitive authoritarianism
without knowing the situation in the area is impossible. In our opinion, this problem
is even more burning in the region of Latin America where the military has historical-
ly been acritical player and maintains its position in the region even today (Diamint,
2015). One of the reasons why there has not been abig emphasis on the civil-military
relations dimension is that until recently, there was no reliable source of quantitative data1
(Bruneau and Matei, 2013, p.2), which largely limited researchers with large-N stud-
ies. As for research oriented to asingle area or one or afew cases, such an approach
e aim of our text will be ademonstration of the above-mentioned problem in regard
to the Venezuela case aer Nicolás Maduro’sstart of his rst term in oce. According to
many authors, Venezuela represents an illustrative case of competitive authoritarianism
in contemporary Latin America (Alarcón et al., 2016; Weyland, 2018; Cameron, 2018).
Aer serious consideration of Venezuelan civil-military relations, it turns out to be aclear
example of aregime that has undergone atransition from competitive authoritarianism
to atutelary regime. Military inclusion in the governing coalition was then reected in
the surge in stability of the regime, thanks to which Maduro’sgovernment managed to
deal with problems associated with the loss of ruling party status in the parliamentary
elections in 2013 and with along-lasting economic crisis. Making an accurate classica-
tion of the Venezuelan regime via exploring the civil-military relations, then, holds the
potential for explaining the resentment of the regime towards liberalization tendencies,
despite the occurrence of plentiful factors (such as victory of the opposition in parliamen-
tary elections, economic and social crisis, and international pressure), which, based on
the assumptions of democratization theories, make competitive authoritarianism notably
CZECH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE / POLITOLOGICKÝ ČASOPIS 1/2020
2. What competitive authoritarianism is and is not
According to Levitsky and Way (2010), competitive authoritarian regimes are ‘civilian
regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the pri-
mary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them
at asignicant advantage vis-á-vis their opponents. Such regimes are competitive in that
opposition parties use democratic institutions to contest seriously for power, but they are
not democratic because the playing eld is heavily skewed in favour of incumbents. Com-
petition is thus real but unfair’ (p. 5). Building on this famous denition, it is well possible
to separate competitive authoritarianism from democracy and closed authoritarianism.
In other words, competitive authoritarianism is aregime that, compared to aclassical
authoritarianism, is marked by the existence of political competition, but unlike demo-
cratic regimes the competition is unfair. Provided we want to make adistinction between
competitive authoritarianism and another kind of hybrid regime, this specication is very
vague. e presence of unfair electoral competition is the denitional feature of awhole
category of hybrid regimes, and not just of one kind of these regimes. Levitsky and Way
(2010) themselves dene in contrast to it three other kinds of regimes between democracy
and authoritarianism. Other types of hybrid regimes are: constitutional oligarchies (ex-
clusive republics), tutelary regimes, and restricted (semi-competitive) regimes (Levitsky
& Way, 2010, p.14). ey are rather succinct in their specication of the other three kinds,
but when taking into account the description and operationalization rules they use in
their book, asolid idea about the regime spectrum in this grey zone may be ascertained.
For our purposes, it is imperative to dierentiate between competitive authoritarian-
ism and tutelary regime, the characteristics of which as summarized in Table 1. e other
two categories are not represented in contemporary Latin America. e key feature of
constitutional oligarchy is asubstantial restriction of universal surage. e last historical
case of this was in Bolivia between 1966 and 1968 (Mainwaring et al., 2010). Arestricted
regime is an example of apolitical regime where electoral competitiveness is restricted
by banning one of the main political parties, which was the case in Argentina between
1957 and 1966 (Levitsky & Way, 2010, p.14). Competitive authoritarianism is dened
by acombination of three necessary conditions and at least one of three sucient con-
ditions. An interesting fact is that the presence of an uneven playing eld, probably the
most famous aspect of the whole regime category, is only asucient condition, which
means that competitive authoritarianism may be ahybrid regime without the unevenness
of aplaying eld. Simultaneously, in each of the four categories of hybrid regimes, the
playing eld may be uneven in some aspect (Levitsky & Way, 2010, pp.365–368). Conse-
quently, it is not agood enough denitional criterion for delineation of aspecic hybrid
Anecessary condition of competitive authoritarianism, and equally the main dierence
between it and atutelary regime, is the emphasis on the civil dimension of the regime. By
this requirement, Levitsky and Way assume aregime where the elected government is not
constrained by non-elected authorities (Levitsky & Way, 2010, p.14), which in the context
of Latin America is mainly meant to be the military. e design of government-military
relations has, in the history of Latin American countries, been rather convoluted, which
is why it is reasonable to rst look into the authors’ own notion of tutelary regime. Hon-
duras in the early 1990s is regarded as such. As acase in point of military inuence in the
country, it is oen mentioned that the local military’sSocial Security Institute was among
the richest investors in the country, which provided the military with akey nancial au-
tonomy (Karl, 1995; Mani, 2011). If the military’sentrepreneurship was asucient reason
for Honduras to be expelled from the family of competitive authoritarianisms, then why
isn’t this asucient reason for Venezuela under Maduro?
Excessive politicization of the military may express itself in other ways as well, which
is why one needs to take adeeper look into it. Experts on civil-military relations, largely
following Alfred Stepan (1988), focus on analysis of military prerogatives, i.e. the spec-
trum of privileges and competences the armed forces enjoy in acountry. Aweakness of
such an approach is, in Samuel J. Fitch’s(2001) view, that all prerogatives are assigned the
same importance, which is rather misleading. According to Fitch, there is adierence
between astate where the military maintains its autonomy in its areas of competence and
astate where it exercises far-reaching inuence in areas outside the traditional domains
of the armed forces. In his view, asoldier in charge of the Ministry of Defence is asmaller
problem than asoldier leading aMinistry not related to the military. Compared to other
authors who introduce aset of 11 or more prerogatives, Fitch focuses on three aspects
of civil-military relations he considers the most important. Next to the previously men-
tioned military inuence in domains outside its competence, he is interested in whether
the military is subordinated to the rule of law and what arrangements for autonomy of
the military exist. With regard to the last aspect, he points out that in afully democratic
regime, it is unthinkable for the military to have its own budget or to wilfully determine
what and who is asecurity threat (Fitch, 2001, pp.61–63). In accordance with this ap-
proach, we surmise that the category of tutelary regime describes asituation when at least
one of Fitch’snamed aspects is violated. In other words, when the military:
a) openly dominates political domains that are not directly pertaining to it,
b) is not subordinated to rule of law, or
c) has too much autonomy from the civilian government.
Table 1. Hybrid Regimes Attributes
Tutelary Regime Competitive authoritarianism
The criteria for full authoritarianism are not met
There exists broad adult surage
Tutelary inuence Civilian regime
Unfair Elections Unfair Elections
Violation of Civil Liberties Violation of Civil Liberties
Uneven Playing Field Uneven Playing Field
Note: Bold font = necessary conditions; Italic font = sucient condition; normal font = theoretically possible attribute.
Source: Levitsky and Way 2010.
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Two remarks must be highlighted here. e rst one is that in this study, the autono-
my of the armed forces is conceived more restrictively than in Fitch’sview. In accordance
with the aforementioned authors, the key point of this area is deemed to be the mili-
tary’seconomic activity. at is because we are aware that the military in Latin America
traditionally enjoys agreater autonomy in security politics.2 at may be due to the fact
that there oen are not enough civil experts savvy in military aairs, which leaves this
area in the military’shands more than is common in Europe (Pion-Berlin & Trinkunas,
2007). e second remark touches upon the fact that the involvement of the military in
the functioning of the state does not necessarily have to mean its higher politicization.
For example, Rut Diamint (2015) illustratively shows in her work that the importance of
the military aer the Pink Tide grew not only in Venezuela, but also in other regimes we
oen call competitive authoritarian (Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua) and in countries
dealing with adeteriorating security situation. Involvement of the military in social pro-
grammes under Morales’srule, or involvement of the military in the war with drug cartels
in Mexico and Columbia, may be taken as cases in point (Diamint, 2015). Such activity
does not necessarily have to lead to an increase in the military’sinuence on domestic
politics. David Pion-Berlin and Harold A. Trinkunas (2005) in their older study convinc-
ingly proved that this only applies to countries with alow level of civilian control. Ahigh
level of civilian control is impossible to achieve in countries where the military has its own
economic sources at its disposal or is not subordinated to the rule of law or is openly part
of agovernment coalition.
Table 2. Subtypes of Nondemocratic Regimes
Competitive Authoritarianism Tutelary Regime Military Authoritarianism
More than one political party.
Elections are competitive but
More than one political
party. Elections are
competitive but unfair.
Either one ocial political party
or all parties are forbidden,
independents may be elected.
Usually economic pluralism Some economic
pluralism, but military is
Some economic pluralism, but
military is important actor.
From illusion of legal-rational
From illusion of legal-
From claims of national
Source: Levitsky and Way 2010; Siaro 2013
To be truly complex, we must at least briey analyze how on the practical level atute-
lary regime diers from atraditional bureaucratic-military regime or competitive author-
itarianism. Asummary of these dierences may be found in Table 2. e main dierence
of atutelary regime from atraditional military regime in Latin America is that the mil-
itary’srole in atutelary regime is more hidden. e tutelary regime is at least seemingly
signicantly more pluralistic. ere are more political parties, and competitive but unfair
elections are taking place. e government retains legitimacy by maintaining the illusion
it is alegal-rational authority, which is abig evolutionary change. In the past, similar re-
gimes stayed in power by appealing to national interests (for more on the problematics
of military regimes, see O’Donnell, 1979). Such achange is highly advantageous for the
military, as openly military governments collapsed with the end of Cold War and their
restoration is blocked by the adverse constellation of the international system (Pion-Ber-
lin, 2008). At the same time, the military in tutelary regimes does not govern itself but is
always at least on paper under acivilian government, which may be better for its reputa-
tion since potential failures may be blamed on the civilian government.
Afundamental characteristic of the tutelary regime in comparison with competitive
authoritarianism is, then, the sharing of power between civilian components and mil-
itary leaders. e tutelary regime is supposed, thanks to the pact between the civilian
government and the military, to be more stable than competitive authoritarianism. at
is because the military in atutelary regime, due to its linkage to state power, prots more
and would suer abigger loss in the case of transition to democracy than the military in
competitive authoritarianism, as the military only serves as aservice element of apower
holder in the regime. e military in atutelary regime is not much interested in main-
taining the status quo based on loyalty to aruling party or apresident, but cares more
about retaining its own privileges and impunity as long as possible. us, civilian oce
holders in atutelary regime may, thanks to the military’ssupport, prolong their immunity
from political responsibility. In competitive authoritarianism, political responsibility is
also rather illusionary, but power holders still strive for popularity and to maintain any
kind of legitimacy as long as possible. Apact with the military can help them in situations
when it becomes obvious the civilian government has feet of clay. e disadvantage for
civil leaders is obviously the need to share power and gains in the economic domain, due
to both spheres being massively cannibalized by the military’sinterference.
3. The military under Maduro’sregime
or Maduro under military regime?
Under the ‘Operación libertad’ motto, Venezuelan soldiers at the end of April 2019 ood-
ed the streets of Caracas with blue bandannas on their arms to demonstrate their support
to Juan Guaidó, arepresentative of opposition forces who encouraged the soldiers to ght
against President Nicolás Maduro’spower usurpation. e immediate reaction of the Ven-
ezuelan government was to arrange military parades, where Maduro with the military
leadership at his side sent aclear signal of unity and the loyalty of the Venezuelan military
to the ‘bolivarian’ regime. ‘Loyalty is avalue that you either have or you don’t … Iknow
you will not fail the homeland’, declared Maduro to the soldiers, with their response be-
ing avolley of slogans ‘always loyal, never traitors!’ In asimilar vein, Venezuelan state
television labelled the whole event a‘march to rearm the absolute loyalty of the armed
forces’ (Phillips & Borger, 2019). Such adiscourse of loyalty, despite Maduro’sown words
attempting to situate the military in the position of a‘unied, disciplined, subordinated
force’, actually puts the military in the role of arbiter of political aairs in the country
whose consent is indispensable for the government’scontinuance. Such afeature in fact
reveals the true face of this political regime. In this case, the government’slegitimacy does
not originate from competitive although unfair elections, as in the case of competitive
CZECH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE / POLITOLOGICKÝ ČASOPIS 1/2020
authoritarianism, but is based on the choice of the military leadership as to which side of
the political barricade to side with. In other words, unelected authorities are bestowed the
power of determining the fate of elected government representatives. us, it is justiable
to regard Venezuela as irrecoverably distant from the universum of competitive author-
itarianism and to say that it has embarked on the path toward ‘hybrid tutelary regime’.
is premise will be tested by exploring the role and position of the Venezuelan military
within the three dimensions that Fitch (2001, pp.61–63) considers critical for detecting
An exemplary evidence of the direct political inuence of the Venezuelan military
outside the sphere of national security is the presence of active and retired soldiers in
ministerial seats in Maduro’sgovernment. In 2017, ministers of military origin (retired or
still active) constituted up to 40 % of the cabinet (Ramos Pismataro, 2018, p.270). Apart
from the Ministry of Defence, where active General Vladimir Padrino Lopéz has been
operating since 2014, soldiers have been in charge of the Ministry of Oil and Gas (active
general of the National Guard, Manuel Quevedo), Interior and Justice (Miguel Rodríguez
Torres, Gustavo Gonzáles López, Néstor Reverol and Carmen Teresa Meléndez Rivas),
Finance (Rodolfo Marco Torres), Waterways Protection (Herbert García Plaza) and Nu-
trition (Herbert García Plaza). Soldiers also have amassive presence in the presidential
oce, vice-ministries and governors’ functions.
Although soldiers had already penetrated into the formal political sphere during the
times of ‘the father of the bolivarian revolution’, Hugo Chávez, from anormative point of
view, the separation of military and civilian oces was still eective at that time. Nicolás
Maduro’saccession to the oce crossed anew threshold in the development of the civ-
il-military relations since both spheres are now growing into one organic piece. In that
respect, the decision no. 651 of the Supreme Court from 11 June 2014 has become the key,
since it de iure enables military functionaries to participate in activities of apolitical na-
ture (TSJ, 2014). Otherwise stated, soldiers in contemporary Venezuela may be appoint-
ed to civilian oces and directly participate in public politics without having to give up
their military oces. What is more, Vladimir Padrino López, an active general and the
commander of the strategic operations section in the military, de facto transformed into
into Man no. 2 of the Venezuelan regime, when on 11 July 2016 Maduro appointed him
in charge of the so-called Great Sovereign Supply Mission (Gran Misión Abastecimiento
Soberano y Seguro – GMASS) with an order to absolutely subordinate all Ministries and
institutions to his mandate (Jácome, 2017). As Maduro himself declared: ‘this is agreat
mission for creation, operation and direction of public policies that should structurally
solve the problem of criminal economy (…)’ (cited in Pardo, 2016). With this decision,
Padrino was de facto bestowed direct and ocial control of all Ministries including deci-
sion-making powers over ministers and other ocials with executive power.3 Within this
mission, soldiers lead the dance in the area of supply and grocery distribution via Local
Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP). In the context of the deep economic
and social crisis in which Venezuela currently nds itself, this position bestows nearly an
‘almighty’ power to the soldiers. However, the power of Minister of Defence Lopéz and
the military in general, does not stop at this point. In February 2016 Padrino, from his
position as Minister of Defence, issued resolution N°013224 that enhances the position of
the Comando Estratégico Operacional (Ceofanb), which he himself heads. e resolution
conrmed the military’scompetences in domains outside national defence, as it permit-
ted military interventions within the framework of controlling domestic public order via
unidades de la Reserva Estratégica, with Lopéz himself in charge of the Ceofanb being the
major driving organ of the operations (Control ciudadano, 2016). is example clearly
illustrates that the Venezuelan military and its authority over civil aairs are undoubtedly
not subjected to civilian control since it is the soldiers themselves who shape the scope
and character of their activity. Execution of public policy not only in the area of defence
and security has perilously shied to the military establishment, which conrms the rst
of Fitch’scriteria regarding the dominance of the Venezuelan military over ‘non-military’
e Venezuelan military not only controls political and bureaucratic positions, but
also massively penetrates into business. e military entrepreneurial empire involves
aseries of enterprises whose activity reaches from transport to communications, con-
struction, agriculture, industry (textiles), services, beverages and nances. In 2017, the
military’seconomic dominion included 20 enterprises, with government support in the
rst half of the year of more than 1 billion bolivars to 16 of them (Infobae, 2017). More-
over, enterprises owned or led by active or retired soldiers, according to recent research
(Armandoinfo, 2017), have been remarkably frequent recipients of various government
contracts. One report speaks of 785 soldiers who, during the past 10 years, received gov-
ernment contracts in areas such as tourism, informatics, transport, nutrition, medical
material, textiles and footwear, mining, security, trade and agriculture. e military has
under its control also the backbone of the Venezuelan economy, the mining industry.
Since late 2017, the biggest state oil company in Venezuela (PDVSA) has been led by
an active general of the National Guard, Manuel Queveda. In 2016, Minister of Defence
and Chief of military strategic operations Padrino Lopéz was appointed in charge of the
Anonymous Military Corporation of Mining, Oil, and Gas Industries (Camimpeg), which
actively participates also in the so-called Plan Arco Minero de Orinoco. is mining
area in the Bolivar state in the south has enormous economic potential since it repre-
sents one of the greatest reserves of gold in the world (Pardo, 2016). Its budget reaches up
to 270 billion (Infobae 2017).
is demonstrable domination of the Venezuelan economy by members of the mili-
tary, together with the giant prots coming out of it, conrms another of Fitch’scriteria,
the autonomy (in this sense nancial) of the military from civilian government. anks
to its entrepreneurial activities, the military has managed to become one of the most eco-
nomically and socially privileged sectors within Venezuelan society, which virtually frees
it from dependency on state funding designated purely for the military sector.
e Venezuelan military also meets the third criterion, which according to Fitch sig-
nies an existence of atutelary regime, and that is that the military is not subordinated to
the rule of law. Areport from the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United
Nations from 2018 explicitly points out violations of human rights by Venezuelan mili-
tary and security forces. ey are accused mainly of obstruction of freedom of assembly,
the use of excessive force, and arbitrary arrests (OHCHR, 2018, pp.9, 25). Despite these
realities, we do not observe any trials of the military ocials responsible for the violation
CZECH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE / POLITOLOGICKÝ ČASOPIS 1/2020
of human rights. e exception being only cases of jailed low-level soldiers who are doing
time for high treason, in other words alleged defection to opposition forces. As of April
2019, there were 152 reported arrested soldiers, who according to Lilia Camejo, an expert
on military justice, and the Report of the OHCR (2018), are denied fundamental human
rights such as the right to trial (Camejo, 2019). In this sense, it is important to stress that
the Venezuelan military is not amonolith and it is mainly the middle and higher posi-
tioned military members who enjoy plentiful economic prerogatives and functions of po-
litical power, while ordinary soldiers suer as much as the rest of the Venezuelan people.
On the other hand, the fact is that the number of high ranked ocials in the Venezuelan
military is disproportionally high4, which may be demonstrated by the number of gener-
als. According to available sources, this number lies somewhere between two and three
thousand, which for an army of six divisions is an incredible luxury. For acomparison, the
ten times bigger US Army (if counting the National Guard and associated services) has to
make do only with half of that number (Ellsworth & Armas, 2019).
Another example of the military’swilful activity is judging civilians in front of military
tribunals, which goes directly against the right to independent and unbiased trial and is
in conict with numerous international norms and standards on the proper organization
of the justice system (OHCHR, 2018). Based on Human Rights Watch (2019), in 2017 the
military judiciary judged over 750 civilians, while this practice continued also in 2018
Finally, the crucial indicator of agrant violation of not just Venezuelan but also inter-
national law was the involvement of countless leading members of the Venezuelan mili-
tary in the drug trade. During three years of eld research, the Insight Crime organization
collected information on high ranked state ocials involved in the cocaine trade, among
whom were some of the leading members of the Venezuelan military. One of them being,
for example, Néstor Luís Reverol, who served as both the Minister of Interior and alead-
ing general of the National Guard (2014–2016) (InsightCrime, 2018). Reverol also fea-
tures on the so-called Black List (Lista negra) issued by the United States, which includes
over 150 public ocials and Venezuelan organizations that are allegedly involved in the
drug trade and other illegal activities like corruption and human rights violations, who
are facing economic sanctions. ere are also other leading military members who are at
the same time the leading member of Maduro’sregime, who are featured on the List, such
as Minister of Defence and an actual leader of the Venezuelan armed forces, Vladimir
Padrino Lopéz; the ex–Minister of the Interior, asoldier and adirector of the Venezuelan
secret services (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional – Sebin) Gustavo Gonzáles
López; aleading general of the military Jesús Suárez Chourio; and General Sergio Rivero
Marcano (Crónica.uno, 2018).
e impunity of the leading military members seems, given the above-mentioned facts,
to be in Maduro’stime a‘common’ reality. is is mainly substantiated by the arbitrary
acts of the military towards Venezuelan citizens and by the involvement of their leading
representatives in countless illegal activities without having to face criminal charges or
prosecution. e submission of the Venezuelan military to the rule of law cannot in this
case be even mentioned.
4. Why did Venezuela transition from competitive
authoritarianism towards tutelary regime?
In the two sections above, we paid attention to the reasoning over why Venezuela aer
Maduro’srise to power does not qualify as competitive authoritarianism. If however, the
Venezuelan hybrid regime underwent atransition from Chávez’scompetitive authoritar-
ianism towards tutelary regime under Nicolás Maduro, it is only appropriate to try to
explain such aprocess. From the point of view of contemporary comparative political sci-
ence, it is an incredibly interesting situation. First, it is atransition between two kinds of
hybrid regimes, which is aprocess that so far has not drawn much attention from scholars
and was rather neglected even in the aforementioned and absolutely fundamental work of
Levitsky and Way (Raun, 2013, p.86). e second reason being that it is asituation that,
in relation to competitive authoritarianism in Latin America, is quite unique. Although
we have recently been observing aconvergence in military and political representation
even in other competitive authoritarian regimes in the region (Diamint, 2015), there is
no situation analogous to the massive shi that has taken place under Maduro. Highly
interesting is acomparison with competitive authoritarianism in Nicaragua5, where the
military, even aer the outbreak of gory protests in April 2018, is trying to act apolitically6
while it does not have afraction of the prerogatives of the Venezuelan military mentioned
above. e unusually high militarization of Venezuelan politics presents, then, rather an
exception than arule in the functioning of hybrid regimes in Latin America.
Finally, in spite of the growth of demand for analysis of political institutions in undem-
ocratic regimes (Pepinsky, 2014), most explanations revolve around elections, while other
political institutions have not received much attention (Carothers, 2018). e institution
that should receive more attention is, in our opinion, the military. Previous studies view
the military more as the government’s instrument for state coercion (Levitsky & Way,
2010; Kagoro, 2016), and not as an independent political actor. is approach is obvi-
ously limiting, since it does not allow us to look into regime dynamics in more detail.
In accordance with our proposed direction for analysis, it is desirable for the military to
be perceived as an independent political actor with its own interests, and not just as the
punishing hand of power holders. is is the same approach which Geddes, Wright, and
Frantz7 (2018) in their last book apply to traditional authoritarianism.
To understand the regime changes in Venezuela, it is necessary to come back to the
traditional approach to the analysis of civil-military relations, which makes adistinction
between subjective and objective control. e merit of objective control is, in Hunting-
ton’s (1957) view, military professionalism8, which prevents amajor penetration of the
military into politics. With regard to subjective control, the militarization of politics is
averted by the military’s commitment to aconcrete person or group of civilians that is
currently in power, rather than their commitment to an oce (an institution of civilian
power) as such (Huntington, 1957). Such asituation corresponded to Venezuela under the
rule of Hugo Chávez, who urged the military’sinvolvement in his ‘revolutionary project’
from the time he came to power (Buxton, 2018). Although Article 328 of the Venezuelan
Constitution, approved under Chávez, declares the Venezuelan military ‘an essentially
CZECH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE / POLITOLOGICKÝ ČASOPIS 1/2020
professional institution without political activity’, which is ‘fullling its duties exclusively
in the nation’shands and by no means in aperson’sor apolitical group’sones’’, the direct
participation of soldiers in civil and political life has become adening characteristic of
Chávez’ regime via soldiers’ involvement in fullling tasks of acivil, administrative or
political character.9 e rise of the military’sparticipation in politics was, in comparison
with the previous era of ‘pacted democracy’, simply striking. e Ministry of Defence
was fully in the soldiers’ hands, when ex-Commander of the Venezuelan military José
Luis Carneiro, retired General Raul Isaías Baduel and General Carlos Mata Figueroa all
held the lead position for atime. Furthermore, soldiers have penetrated into the business
world via taking positions in state enterprises. e Commander of the Strategic opera-
tions section, General Henry Rangel Silva, was appointed to be the new director of the
state telephone company, CANTV, which handles telephone, mobile and Internet services
across all of Venezuela. Rangel Silva also held an oce at the National Housing Institute
(CONAVI), and in 2005, he was appointed as the new Chief of the Venezuelan Secret
Services, Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services (Disip), where he replaced
Brigadier General Miguel Rodríguez Torres.
One needs to distinguish between the level of involvement of the military in politics
and the level of inuence of the military in politics. Despite the military’sinvolvement in
politics being quite strong in the Chávez era, its inuence was signicantly smaller than it
is under Maduro. e dierence is in the military’ssubjective control, which Chávez, un-
like Maduro, had at his disposal and which was based on political loyalty (Coletta, 2010,
pp.847–849). Aparticular expression of the subjective control based on building on such
political loyalty, was the process of indoctrination of soldiers launched aer the unsuc-
cessful coup against Chávez in 2002. is unsuccessful coup led to renaming the military
the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela and accepting the ideologically tinted
motto ‘Homeland, socialism or death’. With these steps, the military explicitly declared
its political position and demonstratively stood up for the particular sector of the society
that under Chávez’s rule supported the ‘bolivarian revolution’. Furthermore, the then–
president could ensure loyalty with regular ‘purges’ of the military circles.10 Inconvenient,
disloyal or critical-towards-the-government soldiers were gradually removed from the
military or were even criminally prosecuted. In this way, anumber of Chávez’soriginal
allies ended up jailed aer they expressed their disagreement in any way with the re-
Finally, Chávez’smain asset was his own military past bound up with the high repu-
tation of the ocer corps, wherefore he enjoyed ahigh esteem in military circles, which
is aquality Maduro as acivilian naturally lacks. It was already during Chávez’stimes that
the military was highly politicized, although its actual inuence on politics was still con-
tingent upon that subjective control, which due to the above-mentioned circumstances
was far more eective than under Maduro. Although in hybrid regime conditions where
democratic institutions and control mechanisms are oen only aPotemkin village, the
risk of potential militarization of politics is much higher than in democratic regimes. e
problem in such regimes starts when the person or group to which the military keeps its
loyalty and which prevents it from intervening in politics, leaves the position of power.
e ruling group in these regimes typically concentrates more power in its hands than is
allowed by the Constitution and laws. at is while institutions themselves do not full
the role of control, or if they do so, then only in alimited way since they represent only the
democratic facade of the regime (Levitsky & Way, 2010).12 e military as arational politi-
cal actor is obviously aware of the situation and is trying to exploit it in order to maximize
its prot. In accordance with the logic of this approach, political instability presents an
opportunity for the military to gain alarger inuence. e case of Venezuela demonstrates
this very situation well in the dierent positions of the military during the reigns of Hugo
Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.
e military was able to expand its power due to the change in presidents, since Madu-
ro with his civilian background does not command the same respect and political loyalty
as his predecessor with his military past. In addition, during Chávez’srule, the country
did not suer such acomplicated political, economic and security crisis as under Maduro.
e decreasing unity within the PSUV and associated groups has also had an inuence.
Maduro was not an ideal successor for many, and the unconvincing economic and politi-
cal results of his rule only enhanced this belief. e dispute with Diosdado Cabello is truly
emblematic here. Diosdado Cabello was Chávez’sright-hand man and many considered
him Chávez’snatural successor (Olmo, 2019). In an eort to weaken the rising opposition
on all fronts, Maduro was forced more and more to seek support from the military (Can-
non and Brown, 2016). Subjective control based on political loyalty is then exchanged
for virtual dependency of the government on the military’sassistance, be it with securing
distribution of basic products among the population (food, medicine etc.) or with the
pacication of rising revolutionary movements within Venezuelan society. Maduro’sgov-
ernment becomes an eective hostage of the military’sleadership, which in exchange for
the assistance asks for various prerogatives, including ashare of political and economic
power (Diamint, 2015).
e growth of the military’sinuence during Maduro’spresidential era is interesting
in one more sense. e existing theories about transition in hybrid regimes have long
emphasized that it is important for their stability that agovernment holds alegislative
majority in the parliament (Schedler, 2013), that the opposition does not manage to
unite into abroad coalition (Howard & Roessler, 2006), and that there are no disputes
within the ruling coalition (Levitsky & Way, 2010). e hybrid regime in Venezuela aer
2015 managed to overcome all these obstacles. Although it had to turn from competitive
authoritarianism to tutelary regime and Maduro’sclique had to hand over asignicant
part of its power to the military, still in comparison with regime collapse and subsequent
criminal liability for the involved actors such acompromise is surely the preferred and
less costly alternative. In the context of Venezuela’sdevelopment aer 2015, Daniel Smil-
de’s (2016) nding is oen mentioned. He comments on Maduro picking generals for
his inner circle who are on the US blacklist for drugs crimes or human rights violations,
since it is expected they will be more loyal to the regime (Smilde, 2016). is argument
is certainly relevant, but in our opinion, it only shows apart of the story. e bet on the
loyalty of ‘discredited’ members of repressive units in hybrid regimes is denitely arele-
vant strategy. Indeed, Lucan Way (2015), in his book on hybrid regimes in the post-Soviet
area, oen mentions low loyalty from the armed forces as one example of these regimes’
weakness. Nonetheless, in the section above we illustrated that there is more going on
CZECH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE / POLITOLOGICKÝ ČASOPIS 1/2020
in the military and that this interpretation is rather simplistic. e Venezuelan mili-
tary does not really care about impunity for afew of its prominent leaders, but mainly
about maintaining its prerogatives in the political and economic domains. is is apo-
sition that is absolutely incompatible with the ideal of modern democracy, which stands
for the separation of powers, rule of law and unconditional sovereignty of the civilian
government over the armed forces, agovernment that is aresult of free and competitive
e aim of this text was to contribute to the ongoing discussion about boundaries be-
tween competitive authoritarianism and other kinds of political regimes. In comparison
with earlier authors, who mainly point out the blurry line between competitive author-
itarianism and democracy (Handlin, 2016; Sanchez-Sibony, 2017; Cameron, 2018), our
study highlights the opposite side of the very same issue, namely the similarly blurred
line between competitive authoritarianism and tutelary regime. Our detailed analysis of
civil-military relations in Venezuela aer Maduro’sstart in oce clearly demonstrates that
more attention to the military in contemporary hybrid regimes is imperative. Contem-
porary literature on hybrid regimes is too heavily oriented towards the problematics of
elections and electoral competition. is trend is understandable from the perspective of
the specic design of hybrid regimes, yet insucient due to its neglect of other power-
ful political institutions. e Venezuelan case is very telling in illustrating that excessive
concentration on elections and electoral competition inhibits adeeper understanding of
political dynamics and leads to aawed classication of political regimes, which consid-
erably limits the quality of our causal explanations. Hence, it is necessary for future anal-
ysis of hybrid regimes to not only see the military as one of the instruments of repressive
control, but also as an autonomous political actor which has its own goals and motivations
that are not always in accordance with power holders.
On the practical level, we present two important ndings for understanding current
aairs in undemocratic regimes, and Venezuela in particular. e rst being that the rela-
tionship between power holders and the military in undemocratic regimes may oen be
compared to anotional ride on atiger. In the short term, power holders may prot from
politicization of the military as they gain acomparative advantage against their political
opponents or tools that may help them in realizing their own political ambitions. From
ashort-term perspective, politicization of the military may entail strengthening the ruling
party’spolitical power in hybrid regimes. In the long term, it raises the risk that the mili-
tary will outgrow its masters and become too inuential, which is exactly what happened
aer Maduro took power. From this point of view, it is obvious that the longer the military
acts outside the clearly set out boundaries of objective control, the more likely there will
be aweakening of civilian political power.
e second nding is that the political power of the civilian government in hybrid
regimes cannot be mistaken for regime stability. e military in Venezuela consolidated
its power at the expense of the civilian government, although the regime as such actually
stabilized, since the military has become an established part of the ruling coalition and
it is much harder for the opposition to win it over. It is exactly for this reason that the
Venezuelan military has not heeded the calling of the Venezuelan opposition and its inter-
national partners to overthrow Maduro’srule. Venezuela’scurrent government is at least
as much Maduro’sas it is the military’sand the oer of an apparently generous amnesty
for the members of repressive units is not so interesting for the generals. e transition
towards democracy could eventually mean asignicant weakening of their inuence and
the prerogatives they currently enjoy. e situation in the country has indeed reached
avery paradoxical stage. ere have been long-time discussions within comparative po-
litical science that hybrid regimes prot from the fact that all that is authoritarian is well
hidden behind the facade of democracy. In Venezuela the military’spower is masked by
the attention of journalists, experts and the international community given to the civilian
representatives of the authoritarian government.
From our perspective, there are only two possible ways out of this. e rst is to de-
mask the true face of the regime, in other words to overturn this facade behind the facade.
Should the Venezuelan government lose its civilian veneer, it would be simpler to take
astronger stance against it on the international level. Openly military governments, as
was already said, have it much harder in the contemporary world. e second option is
to continue negotiations with the military about shiing away from the current undemo-
cratic regime. is needs must entail oering it, at least temporarily, at least some of their
present prerogatives, which could lead to aregime change, but certainly not to aquick
restoration of full democracy in Venezuela.
1. e calling aer change has been heard by the Varieties of Democracy database, which in 2003 rst
included the variable Military dimension index, and by researchers Croissant, Eschenaur, and Kamer-
ling, who put together the Dataset Political Roles of the Military. Both data sources have their short-
comings. e Military dimension index only gives the inuence of the military on the government.
e Political Roles of the Military database completely omits the military’sinuence in the economic
sphere, which, as demonstrated below, is utterly critical.
2. e roots of the specic role of the armed forces in Latin America reach back into the era of the wars
of independence in the 19th century. anks to this, soldiers gained the reputation of stabilization
forces in the highly unstable Latin American societies. Which leads to the consolidation of caudilios
in the 19th century and military regimes in the second half of the past century (see Smith, 2005).
3. It is the Vicepresidencia de la República and the Consejo de Ministros in particular who are subor-
dinated to the Minister of Defence (Control ciudadano, 2016).
4. It is under Maduro’srule that the process of appointing generals is becoming unusually intense.
During his mandate (to 2017), 800 generals or admirals were appointed (El Nacional, 2017).
5. e relevance of this case is demonstrated mainly by the fact that there exists the greatest accordance
with its submission in competitive authoritarianism. Bolivia and Ecuador are fairly controversial in
this sense (Cameron, 2018).
6. According to some commentators, it is, quite to the contrary, asign of its high politicization, or open
connection with Daniel Ortega’sgovernment, respectively (Cruz, 2018).
CZECH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE / POLITOLOGICKÝ ČASOPIS 1/2020
7. As an argument justifying this approach, they use an empirical test proving there is no direct link
between military coups and ahigh level of social or political conict, an assumption that is oen
repeated in the literature (Geddes et al., 2018, pp.54–58).
8. In Huntington’sview, professionalism is based on expertise, social responsibility and corporateness
in the sense that military professionals are specialists in the management of violence; they are re-
sponsible to the state; and they embody an autonomous social unit in the sense that membership
in that unit is restricted and is distinguished by its activities from the rest of society (Huntington,
1957, pp.11, 14, 16). In other words, the professional army is preoccupied exclusively with its own
technical tasks and refrains from participating and inuencing areas where its competence has no
relevance (Huntington, 1957, p.10). e professional army is thus ideally apolitical and subordinate
to civil control.
9. Within Plan Bolivar 2000, 40,000 soldiers were sent into the streets, where they engaged in activities
ghting poverty such as vaccination, food distribution, transport of inhabitants for work and medi-
10. e majority of these purges followed the unsuccessful coup d’état in 2002, which was directly sup-
ported by the US.
11. Astory of one of Chávez’sclose allies has become typical, and it was the godfather of his younger
daughter Rosinés Raula Isaíase Baduela, who on 13 April 2002 successfully led ‘Operation: Rescue
National Dignity’ with the aim of liberating Chávez aer the putsch and to reinstall his government.
Despite the closeness of the two men, they started to grow apart politically, which led to Baduel’sar-
rest in 2009, corruption charges laid against him, and asentence of 8 years in prison in 2010.
12. It is the Venezuelan Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia) that may be taken as an example
here, since the Court may by no means be deemed unbiased and independent of the government.
Based on Corrales’ research, since 2005 none of the TSJ’sverdicts have contradicted the government
(Corrales, 2015). Moreover, in January 2016 the TSJ declared that aer the December 2015 elections
the National Assembly was dominated by opposition forces, and thus not legitimate. In the following
years, the TSJ has gradually annulled all legislative opposition initiatives, aprocess which escalated
on 29 March 2017, when the TSJ usurped all parliamentary functions. Such steps present, in adem-
ocratic context, an utterly inadmissible interference by the judiciary in the legislative process.
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