I have long been skeptical of any real change coming to Venezuela anytime soon, because in 2017, Venezuela defeated the opposition, with some fleeing for their lives, some killed, some jailed, and some caving in to the regime.
Since then, I have long despaired of any change coming to the country, because how was it going to happen? It seemed to me at the time that change would require either armed intervention from the US or neighboring Latin American countries, or an internal military coup. Neither of these things seemed likely to me.
When opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president, I was initially very skeptical, assuming it was just empty posturing by an already defeated and irrelevant opposition. Instead, opposition supporters poured into the streets of Venezuela and President Trump himself recognized Guaido as Interim President:
The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. https://t.co/WItWPiG9jK
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
In addition to Trump, nearly every country in Central and South America joined up:
Recognising Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela:
– Costa Rica
— The Spectator Index (@spectatorindex) January 23, 2019
The current holdouts are Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Belize, Suriname, and Guyana. These countries are either neutral, silent, or supporting Maduro openly.
Of the holdout countries, only Bolivia and Trinidad have actually openly supported Maduro. Cuba and Nicaragua are ominously (for Maduro) silent:
The United States and all but one member of the Lima Group of regional nations threw their support behind Guaido after he declared himself interim president in a defiant speech before masses of anti-government demonstrators.
The declaration by the Lima Group, which has been vocal in denouncing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, was signed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru. Mexico was the only member to not sign.
There was no immediate reaction from Cuba, which is the top regional ally of Maduro, nor from Nicaragua, which is also close to Maduro’s socialist government.
Bolivian President Evo Morales condemned what he called an imperialist attack.
“Our solidarity with the Venezuelan people and Nicolas Maduro, in these decisive hours when the claws of imperialism are once again trying to deal a death blow on democracy and self-determination on the peoples of South America,” Morales tweeted. “We will not be the backyard of the U.S. again.”
Trinidad’s national security minister Stuart Young had this to say:
“At the end of the day, I think sovereign states should respect other sovereign states and that remains Trinidad and Tobago’s position. Our foreign policy is a very clear one of non-intervention. As the Prime Minister has said, we stand ready to assist in whatever way we can, including in any mediatory position that we may be able to play but we certainly don’t think one Government calling on another Government to fall is the right way to go about it.”
He also said President Trump’s call for other countries to see Guaido as the President as opposed to Nicolas Maduro will not change Trinidad’s position.
“I too have seen a, I don’t know if it’s a tweet or if it’s an official position from the United States President, that’s his prerogative; he can say whatever he wants. At the end of the day, Venezuela as far as I am aware, remains a sovereign country.”
Trinidad is likely supporting Maduro because they just concluded an economically critical agreement to buy gas from Venezuela.
How did we go from a defeated opposition to, all of a sudden, a major push to remove Maduro that seems coordinated between the governments of Central and South America, the US, and the Venezuelan opposition?
The situation has actually changed quite a bit in recent months since the opposition was beaten in September 2017.
The first key factor is the dramatic escalation of the Venezuelan refugee crisis, which has seen millions of Venezuelans fleeing into Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Trinidad, and Guyana. The refugees have put a huge financial strain on these neighboring countries, which don’t have the capacity to absorb endless waves of starving and penniless Venezuelans. Furthermore, the refugees have also brought crime and social instability with them, especially in Colombia.
The second key factor has been Venezuela’s increasing international isolation. During the Chavez era, he bought many friends with Venezuela’s oil. Venezuela was close to socialist governments in Ecuador and Bolivia, and they also used oil diplomacy to buy the friendship of many economically struggling Caribbean countries in the wake of the 2008 crisis. The inept Obama administration mostly sat back and let this happen.
Today, however, Venezuela is out of money and struggling to meet its commitments to supply oil. The US has taken this opportunity to woo former Venezuelan allies. I noted back in March of 2018 that the US was making a diplomatic push into the Caribbean and trying to peel off Venezuelan allies.
Key longtime ally Ecuador has also been peeled off from Venezuela’s once substantial system of alliances. Lenin Moreno, who replaced socialist Rafael Correa as president of Ecuador, has been trying to repair relations with the US, clean up corruption in his country, and attract foreign investment. He has also been working hard to reverse socialist policies.
Maduro foolishly used up any reservoir of goodwill Moreno might have had for the Venezuelans and alienated Moreno, which led to Moreno breaking with Venezuela in July last year.
Finally, the third key factor which is influencing things is Venezuela’s transformation into a regional crime hub and narco state. The country has become a huge producer and transshipment point for drugs into the United States. While the war on drugs has fallen out of favor on the political right, particularly among libertarians, the US government remains very committed to fighting it.
All of these factors have led to fed-up neighbors and an America increasingly committed to regime change in Venezuela. Marco Rubio has also been heavily, if informally, involved with policy toward Latin America for some time and has been working hard to isolate Venezuela.
With all of this added up, I think the US and a group of Latin American allies are getting serious about removing Maduro in 2019. The quick recognition of Guaido as the “real” president of Venezuela by nearly all the countries of South America as well as the US and Canada makes me think this has been planned for months.
The Maduro regime may, finally, be on its last legs.