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The deep state

This is a term that, although originally applied to the case of Turkey, has been catching on in general use to denote the internal workings of a country

"Deep state" is a term that - although originally applied to the case of Turkey - has been catching on in general use to denote the internal workings of a country, embodied in personalities or entities which wield manifest power though not necessarily holding any official post or function.

It is practically synonymous with the more familiar expression "state within a state," differing from the latter in that "deep state" preferentially refers, in a disdainful sense, to the Third World. Of course in Western democracies this phenomenon exists too, but it is so genetically grafted into the bone marrow of the state that you may forget that it exists, or even consider it fully legitimate.

In Chávez's Venezuela there is also a deep state but, perhaps because it has not had time to entrench its presence in power, people see it more openly in terms of its capacity for action. This is why, when the opposition organizes mass demonstrations against the government, there is something unconvincing about President Maduro's claim that these people are planning a coup, as if the socialist heir of Chávez did not have things perfectly under control.

Over the course of 14 years the Chávez government managed to construct an armor-plated framework for its system, which is apparently invulnerable. There is a Bolivarian militia: 120,000 volunteers with paramilitary training and modern weapons, which looks like a de facto parallel army, in case the first one starts to get out of hand. A more neighborhood-based version is provided by the so-called colectivos, bands of militants who patrol and intimidate people.

The Chávez government managed to construct an armor-plated framework for its system

But since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Maduro has bent over backwards to bring the armed forces into his system as participants and guarantors. He calls them the Bolivarian armed forces, to underline that this is the new Venezuela. For the soldiery's personal nest-eggs there exists Bancofanb, a financial institution at the service of the army; complemented by Construfanb, a construction company to keep roofs over their heads. A military television channel recently came on the air; and UNEFA, the National Experimental University of the Armed Forces, further swells the repertory of lucrative sinecures.

In less than a year Maduro has appointed almost 400 officers to high-level posts outside the strict ambit of the army. Eleven ministers and 10 vice-ministers are soldiers, not only in security and defense departments, but also in areas such as the economy, industry, electrical energy and food.

This militarization of the state seems to proceed from a worry that only the army could overthrow the Chavist regime. It was no coincidence that the Nuevo Herald of Miami last October published a manifesto signed by 45 retired officers, calling openly for a coup d'état to be launched.

More on the periphery of this central bastion is an additional brigade of 30,000 or 40,000 Cubans, advisors and professionals of various types, and bodies such as the Frente Francisco Miranda, also with thousands of members, which, come election time, acts by informing and by redoubling the pressure on the public. Identical results, we must remember, are pursued in Western democracies, but with more discretion and subtler means of persuasion.

Nicolás Maduro is not much of an orator, but his message is perfectly understandable when he says that his government "goes well beyond political, electoral and constitutional legitimacy, because it extends to various dimensions." Indeed it extends to all the dimensions that, within a narrowly limited pluralism, maintain the Chavist party in power.