Spanish – “The first casualty when war comes is the truth.” The phrase is attributed to U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson in 1917 in the midst of World War I. Over a 100 years later, we can say that it is still valid in Venezuela because to some extent, we have all witnessed the disappearance of the truth and because we are in the middle of a very peculiar war.
The essential characteristic of this confrontation is that we are not fully aware that we are in the midst of war. We try to live like “normal” citizens in a country that is breaking down, where the most elementary infrastructure like electricity has become a variable of combat. Moreover, unwillingly, we are the soldiers and victims of an unconventional war; reality has ceased to be based on certainties and is now made up of uncertainties. Thus, it is difficult to understand it and more so to fight it.
Human beings tend to rationalize what happens to us and downplay the impact of the consequences. Perhaps that is why we avoid the word, war. Instead, we say conflict, confrontation, or crisis in our regular discourse. However, we cannot prevent its severe effects. The truth is that this is a war that we citizens did not invent nor seek. The regime created it and put us into it. It further feeds the situation and provokes a response.
If we apply the concept of the black box, used in physics to assess what enters and leaves it, to Venezuela, we might be able to make sense of the situation. The variables in our presence are the following: The departure of thousands of citizens across the borders each month. The entry of criminal and guerrilla groups. Entry and exit of drugs. Fuel extraction smuggling. Human trafficking. The departure of gold and other natural resources. Importation of arms and foreign military forces. Deterioration of all quality of life indicators such as health, safety, education, communications, transport, electricity, drinking water, etc. Reduction of oil exports. The loss of the value of work and quality jobs. The loss of purchasing power. Unstoppable inflation and a drastic fall in the gross domestic product.
In short, Venezuela suffers everything that happens to a country when it is involved in a war. This without adding the human and dramatic side of everything we endure to obtain even the most essential goods and services for daily life.
How are we involved in this war without realizing it?
If we want to understand it, first, we must identify the sides of the conflict. One the one hand, we have the red revolution that includes several factions: the Chavista oligarchy, the military, various types of radicals, etc. Each of these has its own interests and agendas. Often, their goals are contradictory or in conflict with one another. However, they share the aim of staying in power as long as possible. The revolution has strong international allies who are not necessarily foreign country governments. ELN, FARC, criminals gangs, colectivos, and other armed groups (including Hezbollah) are partners in all this. They breed conflict to serve their interests beyond territorial borders.
On the other hand, there is the opposition, who is also the government. It also includes several groups with distinct interests and agendas. They have the support of almost all the countries in the western hemisphere and the explicit purpose of ending the regime of Nicolas Maduro. However, there are many doubts regarding how to go about this agenda. Since they haven’t acknowledged the ongoing war, they lack the appropriate strategy.
Second, where is the battlefield of this war? Here is what makes this conflict unconventional. The terrain of the confrontation is multidimensional and stratified. The first battleground is the morality of the combatants, that is the mind of the citizens. As Sun Tzu said, wars are won from within and are based on deception. Other planes of the war are public opinion, the digital space, global markets, diplomacy and international justice, outer space and, of course, the physical dimension of the terrain, which is itself the field of military struggle.
As we can see, we have already been fighting for a long time in several of these terrains. We only need to look at social media to see who is winning the fight of public opinion or at global markets with sanctions levied upon the regime and its accomplices. In the physical realm, too, there is much evidence of confrontation; for example, the struggle for territory in the mining arc or on the border with Colombia. It is worth mentioning the efforts of the Lima Group and the build-up of cases in international justice.
Third, what are the weapons and strategies used in this unconventional warfare? At this point, and as Donald Trump says, all the options are on the table. However, consciousness and intelligence are the most critical weapons in unconventional wars. We have already seen that if we do not know what we are involved in, we will have much less chance of fighting. However, beyond consciousness, the full range of intelligence is indispensable; from the capacity to think creatively and implementing practical actions, to the construction of the formal process of gathering and analyzing information to make timely and assertive decisions. Thus, the strategy must include everything that reduces or neutralizes the power of the regime to sustain its position.
One tactic of unconventional wars is delegitimizing the enemy in the sphere of public opinion. Therefore, the Chavista revolution, the Cuban and Nicaraguan dictatorships, and the Bolivian government point to the North American empire as the cause of all evil. They stigmatize it as an invader and inciter of violence. At the same time, they present China and Russia as promoters of understanding and peace.
It is no coincidence that the Russian RT channel appears in Spanish on all cable providers in the continent. It describes itself as one of the primary sources of alternative information in the west, given that it often covers topics ignored by the mainstream mass media.
RAND Corporation published an explanatory text on the lessons learned by the United States in 13 years of the war on terror, including the Syrian campaign. The document points out some experiences that we could use as guidelines:
- Campaigns must be based on a political strategy framed in a coherent and articulate narrative of victory.
- Technology is essential, but it does not replace experience, history, and culture. Everything is inherent in the construction of deception. Therefore, truth is a value and must be managed correctly.
- Victory is impossible without a political plan for stabilization and reconstruction.
- Formulating operations in unconventional wars must rely on a permanent cost-benefit analysis and strict control of expenditure. They are wars that are won or lost in accounting. You cannot fight without a budget because wars are costly.
- National and international military and civilian partners/allies need to work in coordination.
All these points are crucial, but it is worth highlighting three of them: civil-military coordination as a binomial with an integral vision of war, and therefore, of the strategy to develop it; the political end of the conflict is not the occupation or conquest of a territory, but the reconstruction of institutions; and the exercise of sovereignty, as well as the calculation of cost/benefit as a real indicator of the efficiency of the actions undertaken.
However, going back to the beginning, the sacrifice of truth is the first casualty of war. We must reflect on how we are handling information and the cost of deception among our ranks.
The communication policy of Juan Guaido’s government is flawed. We are confusing our allies and not the enemy. The regime takes advantage of it to manipulate and twist facts per its convenience. If we do not understand that information is a weapon and public opinion a field of confrontation, we will lose this battle.
It is very worrying that some media, journalists, and even pollsters don’t build credible information. Instead, they publish news reports that won’t pass the bare minimum tests of verification. It’s a kind of competition to say something or to please someone. If you are trying to do counterintelligence to misinform the enemy, you are not achieving it either because what is being spread is propaganda. Venezuelans already have advanced training with 20 years of Chavismo, and the dictatorship has a significant advantage in the art of deception. Therefore, it is necessary to be more intelligent than them if we desire any success.
Social media platforms are fostering this collapse of certainty. Amid all the censorship and darkness, people sometimes express their positions harshly. We have a problem when we stop believing in “official versions” and automatic backups. Far from solving a problem, they worsen our already eroding trust in the president in charge.
Finally, let us remember that all the power of the opposition comes from the multiplication of citizen support in January 2019 from the activation of Article 233 of the National Constitution. We cannot deviate from the route traced for the construction of forces necessary to combat this unconventional war. Let us be conscious and intelligent and not fall once again into the deception of wanting to buy peace by ignoring the war.
As Churchhill said, “You were given a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”