The balkanization of Venezuela?

Vicente Quintero
4 min readFeb 14, 2019

Several Venezuelan academicians, from diverse background and political tendencies, have suggested that Venezuela is on the way to a balkanization process. Originally published in: The Geopolitics Magazine.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, understood as a Nation-State, could cease to exist as we know it today, to the point that -ex-Congressman Luis Florido asked in a letter in 2018: “to avoid the Balkanization of Venezuela and demand that the FAN fulfill their Constitutional role”. Emilio Figueredo, Venezuelan lawyer and former diplomat, and Alexander Campos, academic at the Central University of Venezuela, are only some of the experts that have suggested that Venezuela is on the way to a balcanization process. There are even analysts in the Venezuelan left who have already warned about this, as is the case of José Negrón Valera (Sputnik). In geopolitical and strategic terms, the concept balkanization is used to refer to the process of disintegration that States may suffer. The dismemberment of Yugoslavia is the main reference of Balkanization.

Academic Alexander Campos says (Contrapunto): “[the Venezuelan State] is not able to control its territory. On the borders there is a more effective control of drug trafficking groups and guerrilla groups than of the State itself. In the east of the country drug trafficking rules. The “mega gangs“ are, in some way, reaching an agreement with the police bodies of State. I am a social scientist and my duty is to think about trends. “

The lack of effective control of the Venezuelan State, the existence of a Parastate (shock troops) and the expansionist geopolitical claims of neighbor countries are only some of the factors that could facilitate a process of state disintegration. Today, the State is not able to enforce the law in the peripheral and bordering areas of the country, where cross-border crime and criminal mafias have increased. The police and the military sector are often subordinated to shock groups, better known as collectives. According to Max Weber: “The State is the human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence within a given territory”. In Venezuela, The State shares the legitimate use of violence with the shock troops. It has lost its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence.

Fortunately, regionalisms are still not exacerbated in Venezuela, at least not at the level of nineteenth-century Venezuela, a period in which regional identity and the consciousness that emanated from it prevailed. In Venezuela there are also no strong ethnic tensions and fissures between the different regions of the country. Since the government of Juan Vicente Gómez, a national identity and a political-administrative division have been consolidated. Before Gómez, the notion of national identity was very weak in Venezuela. Beyond some regions like Zulia, the national identity undoubtedly outweighs the regional one. And we hope that it will continue this way for a long time: regionalism is one of the factors that could facilitate a balkanization.

Surrounded by neighbors such as Brazil and Colombia, Venezuela is in the middle of a very risky situation, now more than ever. The migratory crisis, the hyperinflation and the growing international isolation of Caracas limit the response range of the South American country. Historically, Brazil and Colombia have had an expansionist geopolitical vision on Venezuela. In the case of Colombia, it still claims its sovereignty over the Gulf of Venezuela, indispensable for the whole national economy. This is a diplomatic issue that has not yet been resolved.

Over time, the balkanization of Venezuela has gotten more likely. Following the controversial swearing-in ceremony of Juan Guaidó and the recent round of US sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, Venezuela now has two presidents and two governments. A parallel governmental opposition structure is being created with the objetive of finally removing Nicolás Maduro from power. Juan Guaidó is going to manage the assets of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on US soil, such as CITGO. The National Assembly of Venezuela (the Venezuelan Parlament) is supported by the western democratic-liberal world.

If the crisis in Venezuela continues to escalate, the consequences can be catastrophic for the Venezuelan nation-state. Balkanization processes can be very complicated, and even unpredictable. Although many could surely suppose that Venezuela is going to be divided in two, the truth is that some have suggested that Venezuela may even split into three or four parts, each one with a lesser or greater degree of recognition from the international community, depending on the alignment of these new States with foreign power such as the United States, China, the European Union, Russia and others. Venezuela has entered into a truly dangerous situation.

Will ever Venezuelans be able to find a way out of this?

Interesting facts:

  1. In 1821, the Province of Maracaibo separated from the rest of Venezuela and formed the Department of Zulia, which comprised part of the territory of the current Zulia, Tachira, Merida, Trujillo and Falcon. Through his history, the Zulia Department has been part of the Republic of Colombia. This area is the most prone to balkanization.
  2. For more than 390 years, due to its geographical conditions, Maracaibo was a peripheral area of Venezuela. This isolation allowed the “marabinos” to develop a very emblematic identity and culture throughout its history. Until the Bridge over Lake Maracaibo was built, it was very difficult for Venezuelans to travel to Zulia. Across the lake, transportation was only possible by ferry or other marine transport.
  3. Due to the very poor development of Venezuelan road infrastructure before the 20th century, the West of the country remained isolated. Barquisimeto, Maracaibo, Mérida and San Cristóbal were more integrated to Colombia for a very long time. Because of political, strategic, maritime, historical and administrative reasons, the economy of Zulia, Mérida, Trujillo and Táchira, for centuries relied more on the neighboring country than on Venezuela.
  4. The cities of Mérida (Venezuela) and Pamplona (Colombia) are historically related.

Author: Vicente Quintero @vicenquintero

Vicente Quintero has a degree in Liberal Studies from the Metropolitan University of Caracas, focused on politics.