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Marco Rubio on Venezuela's flash point

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