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A Tale of Two Presidents … In Venezuela

A Tale of Two Presidents … In Venezuela

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By William Tucker
Columnist, In Homeland Security

While it has been a few weeks since Juan Guaidó declared himself the interim president of Venezuela, the political situation within the country remains in limbo. Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s other president and successor to Hugo Chavez, refuses to leave office. In addition, Maduro is as dependent as ever for support from Cuba, Russia and China.

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela deepens each day, even though the United States has supplied some $20 million in emergency aid products. But Maduro has ordered the military, which so far remains loyal to him, to block the aid from entering the country.

Maduro calls the U.S. humanitarian aid the beginning of an invasion. Guaidó has asked the military to allow the aid products to enter the country, but has taken measures to ensure that at least some of it is distributed to Venezuelan refugees in Brazil and Colombia.

New President Guaido Has Internal and International Backing

The aid issue places pressure on both presidents to deliver for the people. Although Guaidó doesn’t control anything other than the impotent National Assembly, he has the backing of 40 nations, including the United States.

Maduro retains control of the military and the militias. But the embattled Maduro just sent food and medical aid to Cuba, even though his own people are suffering.

This bizarre action in the midst a national crisis demonstrates just how beholden Maduro is to foreign powers. In some ways, Guaidó faces the same crisis of legitimacy due to foreign influence. Had the U.S. not made a veiled threat to Maduro not to touch Guaidó, it’s reasonable to assume that the caretaker president would be sitting in a cell somewhere, banished to obscurity or worse.

Political Future of Maduro and Guaidó Is Out of Their Control

Neither Maduro nor Guaidó really controls his own political future. Maduro has the military while Guaidó has the massive anti-Maduro protests.

But both presidents are locked in an intractable struggle for power and are reliant on the backing of foreign powers to maintain their position. Those foreign powers, however, will press their own agenda if the situation in Venezuela leans toward one man or the other.

To emphasize this point, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, “The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but Venezuela’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.”

Trump Administration Has Considered Military Intervention

The Trump administration previously floated the idea of military intervention in Venezuela. Maduro’s placement of a tanker truck and two shipping containers across an entry point bridge to block U.S. aid from entering the country might increase U.S. consideration of the military option.

“Might” is the operative word, however. The U.S. has not articulated any red lines that would lead to military intervention. Nevertheless, the constant rebuttal of Maduro’s moves would suggest that Washington is acting coy by applying pressure via uncertainty.

This strategy frees Washington to act as it chooses, keeping Maduro and his allies guessing without being overly committed to military action. One downside is that strategy leaves the opposition exposed in the long term.

US Will Need to Act Soon

If Maduro manages to hold on to power much longer, the already powerless National Assembly will lose the current broad support of the people. It’s not that most Venezuelans would rush to embrace Maduro, but the chance of widespread violence to force an end to the Maduro regime increases. Overall, the U.S. hoped to cleave the military elite from Maduro’s orbit by supporting Guaidó, but that hasn’t happened so far.

When Vice President Mike Pence formally announced U.S. support of Juan Guaidó, the United States not only became a stakeholder in Venezuela, but also changed the dynamic of Venezuelan politics. What was once a war of words and sanctions has evolved into Washington playing kingmaker.

The number of nations that followed the U.S. lead in recognizing Guaidó as interim president demonstrates that the Trump administration has followed a carefully planned script. Time, however, is not inexhaustible and the U.S. will have to present its next action plan soon. If not, Venezuela could retain a president that few want and the widespread violence that might go with it.

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