May 1, 2019

Opposition's gambit stalls after day of tumult rocks Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó speaking to supporters in Caracas on April 30, 2019. Photo: Rafael Briceno/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó took his confrontation up a notch on Tuesday, appearing in front of a Caracas Air Force base with several soldiers and calling for an uprising to end the control of Nicolás Maduro.

Why it matters: Guaidó has been the legal president, recognized by the U.S. and over 50 other nations, for more than 3 months. Despite this support and the pressure of U.S. energy sanctions, power on the ground hadn’t shifted.

Where it stands: So far, the opposition's gambit hasn’t worked. Maduro, though largely silent, remains in command, his military leaders tweeting their allegiance throughout the day. Guaidó is still free but taking precautions and not publicly revealing his location. Newly liberated opposition leader Leopoldo López fled with his family first to Chile's embassy and then to Spain's.

Between the lines: Nevertheless, plenty of possible developments didn’t come to pass.

  • Backroom negotiations between U.S. officials, opposition leadership and members of the military and Maduro's regime seem to have been attempted but didn't end conclusively.
  • Three members of Maduro’s inner circle didn't turn on their leader (as national security adviser John Bolton said was planned).
  • Maduro didn't get on a plane to Havana (as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested had been in the works).
  • Other members of the military's top brass didn't split from the regime to join the opposition.

What to watch: The military didn’t face a Tiananmen or Tahrir Square moment and has not yet confronted the prospect of shooting on unarmed citizens (although cable news repeatedly replayed footage of a National Guard armored personal carrier plowing into protestors).

  • Whether the standoff escalates into widespread bloodshed may be the most decisive question for the longevity of Maduro's regime and the future of Venezuela.

Shannon K. O'Neil is vice president, deputy director of studies and Nelson and David Rockefeller senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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