Making his first public appearance since the chaotic events began to unfold, Maduro went on state TV late Tuesday, looking tired but calm and denouncing what he labeled a “foolish” and “failed” coup instigated by the United States. Flanked by top government and military officials, he called for a mass demonstration of supporters on Wednesday and denied Pompeo’s assertion that he was preparing to leave Caracas on Tuesday.
After three months of deadlock, Venezuela’s crisis appears to be no closer to resolution than it was in January. Maduro remains entrenched as the de facto president with the backing of the military, and the opposition has made few tangible gains. U.S. sanctions are adding to the Venezuelan people’s misery, but they are unlikely to bring down the regime. Guaido’s repeated attempts to force the issue and drive a wedge between Maduro and the military have been unsuccessful, and with each failed attempt the convenient fiction that he is the president of Venezuela becomes untenable. The de facto government enjoys Cuban and Russian backing, and so far that has proven to be enough to keep Maduro in place. Despite bluster from administration officials demanding that Russians and Cubans leave the country, Maduro’s international supporters show no signs of abandoning him or the regime. Guaido has not been able to gain many supporters among the military, and the supporters he does have are few in number:
As the day unfolded, it became less clear that Guaidó had the support of the full military, said Venezuela security expert Brian Fonseca, a former Marine and U.S. Southern Command intelligence analyst who now serves as the director of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University.
“What we saw today so far is some elements of the National Guard, some general officers from the National Guard” actually support Guaidó, Fonseca said. He estimated that the total number of forces behind Guaidó was likely only in the hundreds. “To me, the most important, powerful branch is the Army and we are not seeing the types of fractures there,” Fonseca said.
Switching sides to back the opposition is an obvious risk that many officers won’t want to take, and so far Guaido has not given them much reason to take the risk. No one is going to stick his neck out for an uprising that seems doomed to fail, and until the opposition can make it seem as if they have a chance of winning most of the military is going to stay on the side of the regime or remain neutral.
Trump railed against Cuba’s involvement and appeared to threaten them if they don’t withdraw their forces from Venezuela:
President Trump on Monday accused Cuba of aiding the government of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who the administration evidently hoped would be ousted by day’s end, warning that it would impose an embargo and additional sanctions on the country if it did not end its support.
“If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, “a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba.”
It is not entirely clear what Trump meant by “full and complete embargo,” but it sounds to me like he is threatening Cuba with a more aggressive economic blockade over and above the current embargo aimed at compelling Havana to abandon Maduro. It is doubtful that a Cuban government that has ignored U.S. economic pressure for 60 years will suddenly yield to U.S. demands that it give up on its most important regional ally, so all that this would achieve would be to cause more pain to the Cuban people. The Trump administration has a lot of practice at spreading misery among innocent civilian populations in misguided attempts to strike at their governments, but the targeted regimes never do what Trump wants.
The administration’s frustration with the failure of Guaido’s gamble was evident throughout the day. Bolton complained that regime officials that were supposedly going to assist the opposition had failed to do so:
John R. Bolton, the White House national security adviser, said top officials in Mr. Maduro’s government had committed to transitioning power to Mr. Guaidó. He identified them as Vladimir Padrino López, the defense minister, Maikel Moreno, the head of the Supreme Court, and Rafael Hernández Dala, the commander of Mr. Maduro’s presidential guard.
If Bolton’s claim about these officials were true, it makes no sense to identify them publicly and expose them to retribution from Maduro. Assuming that they were once willing to side with Guaido, they aren’t going to be able to do that very easily now that they have been exposed by the U.S. government. Bolton’s statements had the whiff of desperation about them:
Bolton out here naming names, pointing to Maduro officials who were supposed to support the insurrection but didn't…. at least today. Seems a bit desperate. https://t.co/vbz1V8jjwR
— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) April 30, 2019
The Trump administration’s misguided interference in Venezuela’s political crisis should end before it causes any more harm. U.S. involvement has only encouraged Guaido in one reckless move after another, and sanctions have contributed to the deepening misery of the Venezuelan people. In light of the latest failure to topple the government, the administration should lift sanctions, give up on regime change, and support U.N. mediation of the crisis. That is what the U.S. should do, but knowing Trump and Bolton they are much more likely to press ahead with their failing policy instead.