Resolution to Venezuela’s endless political crisis lies in the military
Guaidó’s appearance with soldiers sparks mass mobilisation of opposition supporters
Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaidó (L) and Leopoldo Lopez, greet supporters after being joined by members of the Bolivarian National Guard to oust Maduro, in Caracas, April 30th. Photograph: Cristian Hernandez /AFP/Getty
While the situation in Venezuela remains confused, events on Tuesday demonstrate once again that the likeliest resolution to the country’s seemingly endless political crisis lies in the hands of the military.
The Chavista dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro and the domestic opposition to it have been locked in a tense stand-off ever since January when opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.
International efforts since then to bring the crisis to an end have failed. The Trump administration’s power-play to bully Maduro out of the presidency appeared to run out of steam weeks ago. More nuanced efforts involving the European Union and moderate Latin American states have so far produced little of substance. Even Pope Francis has declined to mediate, citing Maduro’s bad faith during previous negotiations.
The United Nations now estimates that a quarter of the oil-rich nation’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance, with 3.7 million suffering from undernourishment. It also calculates another 3.7 million have already fled abroad in desperation. But the continuing support of the generals has so far allowed Maduro to survive this fallout from the failure of the populist Bolivarian revolution launched by his predecessor Hugo Chávez in 1999.
In part he has retained that support thanks to a Cuban-designed counter-intelligence system within the military that has moved quickly in recent years to snuff out flickers of rebellion within the ranks.
But largely it has been bought by turning over huge swathes of the economy to the military. This has allowed many officers to become fabulously wealthy through control over activities ranging from food importation to cocaine trafficking.
That is not to say that all the military, even at the top, are Chavista true believers. Given the ruin into which Maduro has led the country many are thought to be ready to abandon him but have lacked the necessary incentives to do so. Offers of an amnesty by the opposition have remained too vague to provide the necessary motivation for the upper ranks to do what Guaidó and Washington have been encouraging since January, and turn on Maduro.
Tuesday’s developments in Caracas indicate that at least part of the military has now broken with the regime. Guaidó’s public announcement that the “final phase” in the removal of Maduro was under way and his appearance with soldiers sparked the mass mobilisation of opposition supporters in the streets.
But despite Guaidó’s claim that Maduro no longer has the support of the military he is yet to demonstrate that he is backed by any more than just a few army elements. Rather than the start of a military uprising, Tuesday instead looked like another attempt by Guaidó to force the military’s hand into abandoning Maduro.
By mid-afternoon in Caracas it was far from clear if this latest effort would be more successful than his previous ones, which all ended in failure. And if the military refuse to come over to Guaidó en masse, Maduro has every chance of hanging on.