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Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Saturday looms as a flash point in Venezuela's crisis, which threatens to spill into civil strife, as thousands of members of the opposition, spurred by their leader Juan Guaidó, are expected to dare dictator Nicolás Maduro and his military to stop them from forcing emergency medicine and food across the Colombian border into Venezuela.

Driving the news: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an early shaper of the Trump administration's Venezuela policy, recently returned from the Colombian border, where more than 300 metric tons of aid are stockpiled, and told me he met with members of the Venezuelan opposition.

  • "They are well aware of the risks they run to their personal safety by undertaking this," Rubio said in an interview yesterday. "But if you put yourself in their position they really have no alternative."

Why it matters: Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared "interim president," has designated Saturday as the day the opposition will defy Maduro and begin to force emergency aid across the border.

  • Some of Trump's senior aides are frustrated that Maduro still clings to power in the face of mounting pressure from the Venezuelan opposition, mass hunger and economic ruin, and international calls for his resignation.
  • These officials hope Saturday's confrontation will loosen Maduro's grip over his military — the key to his power.
  • Trump has thrown his full weight behind regime change; he recognized Guaido as the legitimate leader (as have around 50 other countries), and he's even toyed with a U.S. military intervention. Despite his bravado, however, he'd rather not commit U.S. troops to another overseas campaign.
  • Axios World editor David Lawler points out: The U.S. and allies like Brazil and Colombia hoped that by tightening the screws on the regime, they could peel Venezuela's military brass away from Maduro.

What's next? One of two things is going to happen on Saturday. Either Maduro's military will stop the aid entering Venezuela, "and the world will see what you're dealing with here," Rubio told Swan.

  • "Or, it [the aid] is going to get to in and it'll expose that the emperor here has no clothes."
  • "And at that point," Rubio said, "I think you could see a cascade effect."

Go deeper: As Venezuela grabs headlines, Nicaragua sinks further into dictatorship

Go deeper

Inflation threatens Latinos' buying power

Expand chart
Data: Hispanic Index of Consumer Sentiment; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Latinos in the U.S. are less optimistic about the economy than they were a year ago as inflation threatens to cut into their buying power.

Why it matters: Latinos have been economic growth drivers for the past decade, opening new businesses at faster rates than other groups and increasing their homeownership rates. The group's overall output would make them the seventh-largest GDP in the world if they were a country.

55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

First look: Frontline Dems seek cover with bipartisan police bill

Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Moderate Frontline Democrats facing tough reelection fights are teaming up with House Republicans on a bill that would effectively help fund the police, according to a copy of the bill text obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: One of Republicans' core and most effective campaign attacks to date is their messaging around progressive rhetoric to "defund the police." Moderate Democrats have long tried to dodge that narrative, acknowledging its political peril despite their support for broader police reform.

Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The U.S. Omicron wave may be peaking, but now COVID deaths are climbing as cases continue to soar in most of the country.

The big picture: Omicron's stranglehold in the U.S. started about a month ago. Its death toll — while almost certain to be smaller than previous waves of the pandemic — is only now starting to take hold, and deaths will likely continue to rise for several weeks.