-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — "What's happening in Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Honduras is just the first breeze," said the Speaker of Venezuela's Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. "A Bolivarian hurricane is coming."

The apparent threats a few days ago, following a series of popular uprisings in other Latin American states, are disconcerting, coming from this regime stalwart and crony of President Nicolás Maduro, also known for his rhetorical bluster. We should take note, as they state clearly his regime's intentions in the region. It was always evident that its founder, Venezuela's late president Hugo Chávez, wanted to export his tragic model across all of Latin America. Yet many of us imagine that Maduro's weakness and the international censure to which he is subjected will have dissuaded him from his late mentor's ambitions. We know today the plan is very much alive.

How is he doing it? By three ways: infiltration, social networks and exploiting local anger. The infiltrators: authorities in Colombia and elsewhere have been able to identify professional instigators from Venezuela in protests registered in the country. There are multiple reports on the presence of supposed members of Caracas' intelligence agency in the protests in Ecuador, while the government of Sebastián Piñera in Chile has indicators of some form of Venezuelan involvement in the excesses of recent street protests.

Secondly, online networking: For this I would recommend reading Antisocial, an extraordinary book by the journalist Andrew Marantz, in which he describes how online extremists hijacked the political debate in the United States and how easily the procedure is replicated worldwide. Our region has yet to talk about it, but we need to start this conversation or face the dissemination of more fake news that dupes the public and exposes it to manipulation by radicals. The tech giants meanwhile make millions in profits on the back of the carefree and the destruction of democracy as we know it. Facebook and Google are enriching themselves by acting as the engines of populists, and it is time now for them to take responsibility for their actions, or rather inaction.

There is a common element in Chile, Ecuador and Colombia: no desire to negotiate.

Thirdly: manipulating local disaffection. There is a common element in the case of Chile, Ecuador and Colombia, namely acting or provoking faits accomplis, without regard for dialogue or a desire to negotiate. In Chile, it was an increase in the price of public transport tickets, in Ecuador the removal of fuel subsidies and in Colombia, mainly, demands for more money for education. Protesters came onto the streets in droves before the conversation had really taken place, and forced back those measures by bringing their governments to their knees. Is throwing stones the new way of public discussion or voting?

To be clear, I am not saying all demonstrators are revolutionaries or that every act of protest is encouraged by the Venezuelan regime. I would affirm however that local problems and public anger are definitely being exploited using technology and its lack of oversight, and that Maduro-backed infiltrators are exacerbating the protests and pressuring democracies in Latin America. It is an explosive cocktail that, if we are not attentive, could blow up in our face.


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