Analysis, by Tom Phillips* – The Guardian
The US and other states rushed to recognise Juan Guaidó but the path to dislodging the country’s leftwing leader is unclear
Venezuela’s political crisis was turned on its head on Wednesday as a succession of world powers declared they were recognizing the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the South American country’s rightful interim president.
“The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime,” Donald Trump tweeted as he announced what some believe could prove a game-changing decision.
Soon after, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay and Costa Rica said they would follow suit – although Mexico’s left-leaning government said there would be no change of policy for now and Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, attacked what he called an imperialist assault on South America’s right to democracy and self-determination.
“Brazil will politically and economically support the transition process so that democracy and social peace return to Venezuela,” tweeted Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
A senior US administration official said the move meant “Maduro and his cronies” now needed to understand they had no future and had no choice but to accept “a peaceful transition” and “an exit solution” from the country.
But as the dramatic news sunk in, Venezuela specialists said they were unsure what the immediate impact might be – and how Maduro might react.
Eric Farnsworth, a former US diplomat and vice-president of the Council of the Americas, said Guaidó’s move – and Trump’s swift recognition – which came on a day of rare mass protests in Venezuela – was “a clear inflection point” that could prove the tipping point for Maduro’s embattled regime.
“I don’t think we can automatically assume he is on the way out. But I do think today is the most serious threat he has faced,” said Farnsworth.
Yet it was also a moment fraught with danger, both for the regime and the country. “Maduro can’t acquiesce to this shift – he is going to have to react in some way,” Farnsworth predicted.
Maduro wasted no time in launching his counter-attack. From the presidential palace’s “people’s balcony” he announced he was breaking diplomatic relations with the US and gave US diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country.
Maduro claimed an attempted coup backed by the “gringo empire” was under way and urged supporters – and crucially the armed forces – to resist it “at all costs”.
“We are defending the right to the very existence of our Bolivarian Republic,” Maduro said, accusing his foes of trying to steal Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold: “They intend to govern Venezuela from Washington. Do you want a puppet government controlled by Washington?”
Venezuela’s national assembly head, Juan Guaidó, waves to the crowd during a mass opposition rally n which he declared himself the country’s ‘acting president’.
Beyond breaking ties with the US, many now expect Maduro to order the arrest of Guaidó or other opposition leaders. Farnsworth said Maduro might also “turn sharpshooters on crowds and try to scare everybody back home”.
If that happened, the US and the international community would be forced to react. The US official said it had “a host of options” if such a crackdown occurred: “Everything is on the table – all options.”
Ratcheting up oil sanctions in an attempt to economically strangle Maduro’s regime would be the most likely step, with the official warning “we haven’t even scratched the surface” with sanctions.
But David Smilde, a Venezuela expert from the Washington Office on Latin America advocacy group, said the US in fact had few good options were Maduro to respond with violence or political repression.
“The US and other countries have really upped the ante … but it’s not clear that it breaks new ground,” he said.
Increased economic sanctions could exacerbate an already severe humanitarian emergency that the UN says has created the biggest migration crisis in recent Latin American history. A military intervention that would potentially lead to massive destruction and great loss of life and could drag the US into a messy and protracted occupation and reconstruction process was also undesirable.
Smilde said: “Look at Somalia, look at Afghanistan, look at Iraq: all of those cases were supposed to be short military actions and actually what they do is end up generating enormous costs in terms of loss of life and infrastructure.”
The US official said Trump hoped Maduro and those around him would understand they now had no “immediate future” and had to seek a peaceful exit route that would see democracy restored to Venezuela.
“Let’s remain optimistic and hope Maduro and his cronies saw the magnitude of the message [from today’s protests],” he said.
Farnsworth said he saw turbulence ahead and warned of a possible breakdown of civil authority and “chaos on the ground”.
“This is going to be a very important date which portends some very volatile and uncertain days and weeks ahead,” he predicted. “There is no question in my mind about that.”
* Tom Phillips is the Guardian’s Latin America correspondent
Russia Warns US Intervention In Venezuela Would Have “Catastrophic Consequences”
by Tyler Durden – Zero Hedge (*)
Russia has dismissed the political crisis engulfing Venezuela as an attempted coup while expressing concern over the role of external states and the potential for foreign military intervention, calling Juan Guaido’s move to declare himself president illegal.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, “We are very concerned by statements that don’t rule out some kind of external intervention,” as cited by Bloomberg. “We consider such intervention unacceptable,” Peskov added while describing the internal unrest spilling into the streets after the catalyst of Monday’s failed military revolt of 27 officers in an opposition neighborhood of Caracas an “attempt to usurp power”.
This follows President Trump’s declaration that the US would only recognize the unelected head of the opposition-held National Assembly as “the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.” A senior Trump administration official followed by saying “all options are on the table”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said further in website statement that Washington’s joining a growing list of about a dozen other countries to recognize Guaido “is aimed at deepening the split in Venezuelan society, increasing the conflict on the streets, sharply destabilizing the internal political system and further escalation of the conflict.” And in words eerily similar to the brief international exchange of words over prior US action in places like Libya and Syria the ministry said that external armed intervention would be “fraught with catastrophic consequences.”
The foreign ministry further described that the situation “has reached a dangerous point” and called on the international community to engage in diplomacy and mediation between the Maduro government and opposition.
And separately, a senior Russian official on Thursday warned the Trump administration against what he called the “catastrophic scenario” of military intervention in the region. “We warn against this,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said in an interview with International Affairs magazine, as cited in USA Today. “We believe that this would be a catastrophic scenario that would shake the foundations of the development model we see in the Latin American region.”
In early December of last year President Nicholas Maduro visited Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin at a time when tensions with both countries and Washington were soaring. The leaders discussed Russia’s offering to throw cash-strapped Venezuela a multi-billion dollar life-line despite Caracas in the past being unable to pay its debts. During that trip, Maduro had called Russia a “brother country” with which Venezuela had “raised the flag for the creation of a multipolar and multicentric world.”
This meeting was followed by Russia briefly deploying two nuclear-capable “Blackjack” bombers to Venezuela as part of a joint training exercise meant to underscore the two countries’ growing military relations.
Meanwhile Russia is not the only country to express fear of external meddling and an “illegal” coup attempt, but predictably Syria, Turkey, and China have also declared intentions to stick by Maduro while voicing that the Venezuelan people alone should decide their fate.
(*)Zero Hedge in-house content is posted under the pseudonym “Tyler Durden”, however, the founder and main editor was identified as Daniel Ivandjiiski, Bulgarian born, U.S.–based, former investment banker and capital markets trader, and currently financial blogger, who founded the website Zero Hedge in January 2009, and remains its main publisher and editor.