This summary and backgrounder serve as a guide to explaining what is happening in Venezuela. Click on the links for deeper dives.
Yesterday Juan Guaido, the self-declared leader of Venezuela, dramatically announced the onset and “final phase” of “Operation Freedom,” Venezuela’s removal of Nicolas Maduro from power.
In a bold early morning video announcement, Guaido declared “the main military units of our armed forces” were with him now. He urged the people of Venezuela to take to the streets and oust Maduro.
Standing next to him was his mentor and the most famous political prisoner of the Maduro era, Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez has been under house arrest but the military members guarding him have turned to the side of Guaido. The signals were obvious but in case the people of Venezuela were missing the point Lopez made it clear. Now was the time!
Read my full guide and backgrounder on the History of the Crisis in Venezuela here.
Patreon supporters can download and listen to my podcast on the history and background of the Venezuela Crisis here (parts 1 and 2).
Venezuelans responded and throughout the day widespread protests erupted across the country. Today, May 1, is a national holiday in Venezuela and rebellion was no doubt timed for this to guarantee a growing momentum among those loyal to Guaido.
By Tuesday afternoon it appeared this so-called “final phase” to oust Maduro might indeed succeed. The head of Venezuela’s intelligence agency, SEBIN, wrote a letter stating he has always been loyal to Maduro, but the levels of corruption now were too rampant. “The hour has arrived for us to look for other ways of doing politics.” The letter was circulated by social media to prompt further response from people in the streets of Venezuela.
Leading voices from the Trump administration announced a plane was waiting for Maduro at the airport to fly him out of the country, but the Russians convinced him to stay. The Russians have since denied this report. Maduro has also laughed off this allegation from US leaders.
Then came the violence. The capital city descended into violence as protesters responding to Guaido’s call were met by soldiers remaining loyal to Maduro. Several news outlets have described the streets of Caracas as a “war zone” in the last 24 hours.
Later in the day Maduro took to the nation’s airwaves and announced this was a small coup attempt that would not succeed. Indeed, Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez have survived many coup attempts before.
The level of strength maintained by Maduro at the end of the first day of the rebellion suggested Guaido’s assertion of military strength from that morning was overstated. Maduro went on to insist the instigators of this coup would be punished.
Guaido responded with his own address to the nation stating this was not a coup as he was the “legitimate commander of the armed forces” and this was a “peaceful transition.” Guaido was alone in the evening announcement as Leopoldo Lopez had fled with his family to the Chilean ambassador’s residence for refuge.
Today the unrest continues to unroll and while it is unclear which side will end up victorious, the one thing that is almost certain is that the price will be paid by the Venezuelan people themselves.
Is It A Coup in Venezuela?
An analysis in the Washington Post late Tuesday afternoon explained Is What’s Happening In Venezuela An Attempted Coup? First, Define Coup. The analysis betrayed the condescension of semantic arguments toward civil violence and unrest made in the comfort and safety a thousand miles from danger.
By any objective measure, what is happening in Venezuela is a coup, as I originally explained when Juan Guaido declared himself the leader of Venezuela without an election but with full and immediate support of the US in January.
Recognizing this for what it is should be easy. Maduro is a dictator and his recent reelection was likely fraudulent but there has been no democratic process to remove him from power. Indeed, the self-proclaimed and US-backed new leader of Venezuela has literally called for rebellion and uprising against Maduro in this week’s events that are still unfolding.
That does not mean that a coup is unjustified. The people of Venezuela have a right to overthrow the tyrant. This is their country and they are literally and legitimately suffering under the corruption and oppression that has only increased under Maduro’s rule.
The Role of the US in Venezuela
The problem is that this coup has not been sponsored by the people of Venezuela or Juan Guaido alone. From the beginning, the US has taken a keen interest and timely participant’s role in the unfolding of the Venezuelan coup.
US Senator Marco Rubio has transformed his Twitter feed into a nonstop coverage and support for Juan Guaido and the coup (Rubio insists it is not a coup) in Venezuela. NPR is pushing daily news reports from Venezuela. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this morning that “military action is possible” and, “If that’s what’s required that’s what the United States will do.”
US officials explain they are merely supporting a democratic uprising against a socialist dictator. Where was their voice and support in the recent coups and uprisings in Algeria and Sudan? The disparity in the levels of engagement by the US government and media is a signal of a disparity of interests. It is also a sign that we should be very careful who and what we believe regarding the events unfolding in Venezuela today.
The history of Latin America makes clear that when the US has become overtly involved in the politics of nations south of the US border horrible outcomes result for the people on the ground.
What Comes Next in Venezuela
The next 48 hours will be pivotal for Venezuela. Maduro’s hold on power is far stronger than Juan Guaido led his followers to believe Tuesday morning but that does not mean Maduro is secure. The US and Guaido are investing a lot of resources and credibility to see him removed.
Maduro has promised there will be consequences for those who have instigated this latest rebellion. If he fails to respond in force to Guaido he will look weak. If he responds in too great a force, he may open the door for intervention from the US and fifty other nations who have supported Guaido’s questionable claim to authority.
The worst-case scenario for the people of Venezuela is an escalation of the violence into full-scale civil war. This is a strong possibility at this point.
A more likely scenario but one in which the final results are still vague includes the involvement of the wider international community to force terms upon Maduro and Guaido. Russia and the US have opposing interests in what is taking shape here and will likely play large roles in the final outcome.
On Friday the Lima Group, an 11-nation body that includes Venezuela’s neighbors, will meet to discuss what is taking shape in the South American nation. The Lima Group has already fallen in line with US statements and interests – a pattern similar to what took shape in former coups in Latin America when the US was actively involved.
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