By Mat Youkee
In the early hours of Tuesday morning Juan Guaidó — recognized by 54 countries as the rightful president of Venezuela – unveiled a bold bluff. Standing alongside opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez – hitherto under house arrest – and flanked by armed soldiers, Guiadó announced the beginning of the “final phase” of his mission to topple president Nicolas Maduro.
As the day progressed it became apparent how weak his hand was and by the evening he had folded. Lopez was holed up in the Spanish embassy, 25 Venezuelan troops were in the Brazilian embassy and Guaido had gone to ground.
It will take time to establish how close Guaido’s gambit came to success on Tuesday morning. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments that Maduro would had fled to Havana had it not been for Russian intervention should be taken with a grain of salt given his and John Bolton’s recent history of provocative public statements aimed at undermining Maduro.
There is reason to believe that the regime was caught off guard, according to Nicholas Watson, Managing Director for Latin America at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy. “Maduro was not seen all day, and there were reports that many of the usual troop checkpoints were unmanned, it seems that some members of the military were waiting to pick their side,” he says.
Troops in support of Guaidó – wearing blue armbands to identify themselves – rolled through Caracas to the cheers of the thousands of civilians marching on Miraflores, the presidential palace. It soon became apparent how few they were, however, and Maduro’s forces sealed off access using teargas at the usual pinch-points.
There was a video of an armoured car ramming protestors, but no reported deaths. “The uprising never reached the critical mass needed to provoke mass desertion,” says Sergio Gúzman, a Bogota based political risk analyst. “Maduro has exercised restraint in putting down protests at a time when violent repression could provoke international intervention.”
On May Day, the crowds Guaidó hoped for didn’t turn out either and Maduro supporters appeared to greatly outnumber opponents.
As of mid-day Thursday, the casualty count was remarkably low considering the hoped-for scope of the insurrection — four dead and 235 injured, many of them government national guard and police personnel.
What now for Guaidó, thought to somewhere in eastern Caracas? Could this be his last shot? “I think the moment has gone for Guaido,” says Guzman. “Maduro may have lost some military support but the opposition is losing momentum at a greater rate.”
However, the support of some elements of the Venezuelan intelligence agency (SEBIN) for the uprising and senator Marco Rubio’s suggestion, if true, that four members of Maduro’s inner circle had a hand in planning the rebellion could increase tension and suspicion in the military.
“At first glance the coup was a failure,” says Watson, “but there could be corollary affects. The military’s loyalty is being tested, U.S. sanctions are beginning to bite and Maduro can’t arrest Guaido for fear of international reprisals. It’s a fragile situation, we could see another major event.”
On the other hand, that major event could be a long time coming considering this week’s failure.
Credit: The Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk