SHTF Lessons From Venezuela, by CSR

I am an avid reader and have not attempted to contribute to this fine blog because I personally had little to offer from the perspective of knowledge or skills that many more knowledgeable individuals have already contributed. However, as I have been closely monitoring the current events in Venezuela I realized that this is an area where I have knowledge and skills that many others don’t. Also, there is a great deal about these events that,in my opinion, correlate to the United States’ political and economic directions and possible outcomes. The people of Venezuela are learning lessons the hard way.

My background very briefly: I am a U.S. citizen married to a Venezuelan, am fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, and have been actively collecting information on the situation in Venezuela since Chavez came to power in 1999. Although I took a hiatus, there was a time when I had a network of informants that resulted in DEA and FBI investigations into issues we reported. I still have family and contacts there and worry about them. My sources, therefore, are coming directly from the Venezuelan Spanish language news (online and broadcast), relatives and friends, and by monitoring their internal communications within Venezuela social media.

The news media here in the U.S. have completely missed the boat on the Venezuelan situation. Suffice it to say at this point that the conditions over the past 15 years have deteriorated so much that between one and two million out of 30 million citizens have fled the country. Violence has spiraled out of control. Some estimates indicate that during the period of 2003 and 2011(the same period as the Iraq war) the number of murder victims reported in Venezuela rivals the number of people killed in Iraq. In addition to the intolerable violence, socialist government policies collapsed many industrial and agricultural sectors. In an effort to maintain forceful hold on power, the socialist leaders used class and racial conflict to divide the nation. When Chavez decided to upgrade his military weaponry, he purchased tens of thousands of AK47s and then trained paramilitary militias, giving them the military’s “old” weapons, mostly Belgian FAL rifles. To those militias, add other paramilitary shock groups that function like Mussolini’s Black Shirts or Noriega’s Dignity Battalions– goons on motorbikes who drive around shooting at protesters and anyone on the street in order to strike terror in the populace.

So the people of all classes now find themselves in a situation in which electric power is no longer reliable, blackouts are common, and diseases that were eliminated are returning. Inflation can run up to 50% per month, rendering the Bolivar fiat currency nearly worthless. Since the government had forcefully expropriated (through the Venezuelan socialist version of eminent domain) huge tracts of productive domestic livestock and then given it “to the poor” who didn’t know how to farm it, domestic food production crashed. Food was then imported, using dollars. Once inflation soared, the government clamped down on the ability to purchase dollars. This had repercussions throughout the economy. Nearly all medicines are imported, bought with dollars. Hospitals and clinics are now almost completely devoid of medicines. Patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease, cannot get their medicines. Cancer patients cannot receive treatment and are dying. Food supplies are dwindling and what food there is has become expensive. Shop shelves are bare, and long lines form whenever food becomes available.

This is the background that led to the most recent wave of protests, led primarily through a grass roots, social media-driven campaign by students of high school and college age. Their message was simple: “Enough! We need a new government.” Protests by hundreds of students swelled to become thousands. This startled the government, so they unleashed their goons to try to intimidate the students. However, a “strange” thing happened: The more they were attacked, the angrier the people became. After they killed their first victim, they thought the people would cower at home, but that’s not what happened. The people who had previously perceived their own personal safety as tantamount now placed their own lives in a lower priority over the lives of the youths who were fighting for their future. The numbers of protesters swelled into the hundreds of thousands. More were killed. Still they refused to back down. So the government unleashed the military. Citizen journalists with smart phones have documented proof of brutality and even executions by some of the military, and this has been disseminated around the world. For the first time since the height of Chavez’s revolution, nations and organizations that tolerated Chavez’s “excesses” are now beginning to move. Even some of the nauseating progressive politicians here in the U.S., who previously spoke warmly of Chavez, have tweeted photos of themselves supporting the opposition.

At this current moment, the reality of what is happening is becoming difficult to find out. The government has realized, perhaps too late, that social media was used to mobilize not only their internal enemies but to mobilize the external community. They are shutting down telephone and Internet services in some cities and states. We know they are flying their Russian Sukhoi and older U.S. F16s low over the cities as an act of intimidation, and we know the military is coordinating with the civilian shock troops because they have been recorded doing it. Distinguishing between accurate citizen reports and wild rumors is becoming difficult.

Observations From Venezuela:

Foolishness is the Norm in the Face of Slowly-advancing Tyranny. Anyone with common sense could have foreseen that this was coming. My wife and I, both “moderate” preppers, have been warning our relatives to purchase a supply of food and ammunition and make other preparations, but the average person is an easy victim of the “normalcy fallacy”. Even when faced by impending crisis, the majority of people will simply fail to take adequate steps to ensure their own safety. Thus many of those, who had the means to be prepared, failed to take steps to do so. One must also remember that the poorest citizens simply have no means to stockpile food when it is already difficult to find and expensive. I do feel good that, when a nephew came to visit last year, I took the time to teach him to fire a revolver, like the one he inherited from his father, and to fire a shotgun. He may not have much ammunition, but he knows how to use his gun safely and with relative accuracy. Lessons learned: Make as many outreaches as possible to teach family and friends how to prepare, and make sure they can defend themselves. Count on the fact that normal, intelligent and educated people will ignore the warning signs.

Social Chaos Benefits Organized Criminals. As stated in the preamble, social unrest and violence had been growing thanks to the lawless conditions fomented by the government. We have all read about criminals taking advantage of the situation. We are seeing this proven yet again in Venezuela. Gangs are naturally organized, ruthless, and accustomed to violent action. They are the ones who have the least to lose and are the least afraid to use violence. If food is scarce, they can easily smash shop windows and take what they want. Anticipate that these individuals will not only enjoy and thrive in these conditions, they will ally themselves with the politicians who are making it happen. This holds true for the “nickel and dime” delinquents but also the big fish– the drug cartels and mafia. Kidnapping has become a cottage industry, and they will pluck anyone off the street, if they think they can make some quick cash. Smart people will never wear expensive clothing, drive fancy cars, or display any sign of wealth. When conditions get bad–and I mean truly awful–they will shoot you to take your phone without even bothering to say “stick ’em up”. Human life becomes utterly worthless in SHTF.

Creative Community Defense is Vital. Venezuela is not one of those countries that completely bans firearms. Until recently, firearm ownership was legal and quite common, but don’t confuse the ability to own hunting rifles, shotguns, and pistols with the kinds of arms we patriots covet. I know a few Venezuelans who own revolvers or semi-auto handguns, and none who own rifles, like AKs or ARs. The people, therefore, are becoming extremely clever in their defense. In the previous days, the students have burned government vehicles, including at least a couple armored personnel carriers with improvised devices. The neighborhoods are organizing and creating 24-hour guards. They are creating slings, slingshots, and other means to propel “munitions” at the enemy. Cooperation and coordination has been key. The youth in particular have been brilliant at using every communication method to coordinate. You can hear them by using Zello, and to my amazement they have devised codes to maintain OpSec. They are now coordinating increasingly complex maneuvers to attack and in recent days even captured a Cuban soldier wearing Venezuelan military garb, and they are holding him prisoner. I presume they captured his arms as well. Since the paramilitary groups attack mostly on motorcycles, they are stringing cables neck high across roads leading into their neighborhoods and then luring them in. Once they have been unsaddled, they sweep in and counter-attack, burn their motorcycles, and chase them on foot.

In the Andes state of Tachira, fighting has been particularly fierce. Known as Gochos, these people have proven to be especially resourceful. They are pouring burning oil on the roads and have set out traps of oil in turns to cause the motorcycles to fall over, so they can be attacked. I saw a photo of around 30 men who had cut down a pine nearly 50 feet tall, and they were carrying it to block the highways. In the city of Maracaibo, the Indian tribes arrived by the busload last night carrying clubs, bats, spears, and machetes to join the students. Infamous in the country for their ferocity, this news has lit a new spark because it means that the people, regardless of ethnicity, are standing shoulder to shoulder.

The Enemy Will Use Food, Water, and Power As Weapons. The government has begun using access to food, water, and power as a weapon. Not only have they cut electric power and television service, they also brought down land-line telephony and cellular service to prevent communication. They also cut the water supply in towns in Tachira state. Access to food is extremely limited, and I have no idea what the people will do for water. This is not the desert of Syria; it is a wet country, and with their indomitable spirit I am sure they find a way.

Lack of Communication Causes Panic and Rumors. As the communications are shut down, we are seeing that a sense of panic is growing. No one knows if other states have surrendered, and they are the last to stand at the Alamo. They don’t know if the government is losing either. This is why it is growing difficult to differentiate between rumors and fact. Rumors and reports are that the government is now massacring prisoners by the dozens if not hundreds and burning the bodies. Some report that the jets are bombing cities. Information is as vital at this point as food and water. Calm leadership is needed to keep everyone from panicking or shutting down. It would have been wonderful if they had prepared with a radio network that was interstate rather than just within small, cloistered groups. Those of you with Ham equipment will be hailed as heroes should this situation come to a theater near you.

The Enemy Will Use Psychological Operations Against You. This topic is closely related to communications. Both the government and the paramilitary groups as well as the organized crime syndicates are using Psy Ops to spread fear and confusion, as well as division. A recent example illustrates what I mean. There are radical groups that once supported Chavez but do not like the new president, Maduron. One of their leaders, a 20-something criminal, had apparently been willing to shoot at the opposition to support the government, but also engaged in battles with the national guard and police when they invaded what he thought was “his territory”. I guess he had become a liability, since his allegiance seemed to flip. He was shot in the head by police, and the incident was actually caught on video. The government tried to blame the opposition in order to damage their reputation and reduce support. In other cases, the police sent plain-clothed officers into the protests to have them act as agent provocateurs in an effort to discredit the opposition. As we examine our own country and speculate about the types of situations that might arise should our economy collapse or for whatever reason causes SHTF, we need to be aware of the actions of people we “think” are with us but intend us harm.

Faith is Key to Survival. I will wrap this up by pointing out that the majority of Venezuelans are devout Catholics, and their devotion to their faith has been inspiring. They have been far more patient and peaceful than I can fathom. In most cases, when their children have been murdered, they respond not with violence but with a peaceful gathering, holding open-air masses and prayer. Their faith gives them optimism and strength. Not surprisingly, because Venezuelan women are typically the ones who instill religious faith in God to the children, they are absolutely key to keeping the community morale high, and make up greater than 50% of the people marching. It is quickly becoming a nation of “Mother Grizzlies,” who are on the front line of the struggle.

I hope this article has been enlightening to some, entertaining to all, and thought-provoking. Every night I tell myself, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”