The Trump administration warned this week that it was prepared to use military force in support of an uprising against the country’s authoritarian president, Nicolás Maduro. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Caracas and clashed with pro-government forces after opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared at an air base in the capital and—flanked by a small group of dissident soldiers—called on the military to support him in the “final phase” of his plan to remove Maduro. “The moment is now,” said Guaidó, 35, who is recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by the U.S. and more than 50 other countries. It was Guaidó’s boldest effort to date to topple the leftist president, yet his call went largely unheeded. Top military commanders remained loyal to Maduro, and soldiers and pro- government militias blasted anti-government demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. At least one person was killed and dozens more injured. Maduro boasted that he had defeated a coup attempt by the “deranged” U.S. government.
The U.S. voiced its full backing for Guaidó, with President Trump threatening “a full and complete embargo” against Venezuela’s socialist ally Cuba unless Havana stopped supplying Maduro with military aid. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that U.S. military action in Venezuela was a possibility “if required,” and said that Maduro had been preparing to escape the uprising by fleeing to Cuba until he was told to stay put by his regime’s backers in Russia. Maduro dismissed the claim, saying, “Señor Pompeo, please.”
“Have we suddenly gone back to October 1962?” asked the Miami Herald in an editorial. Once again, Washington and Moscow are locking horns over a Latin American country. And while “there are no Russian nuclear weapons pointed at the U.S.,” as was the case during the Cuban missile crisis, “there are two volatile world leaders who won’t shy away from an ego scuffle.” Right now, it’s Russian President Vladimir Putin who appears to have the upper hand.
Maduro is a brutal tyrant who has turned oil-rich Venezuela into a basket case, said Roberto Valladares and Nicola Morfini in Al Jazeera.com. But unless Trump is eager for “another Afghanistan,” he should avoid a military intervention. Toppling Maduro would be easy, but it would then be the U.S.’s responsibility to fix Venezuela’s economy—inflation now exceeds 1 million percent—and to battle guerrillas and the criminal gangs that already control whole neighborhoods. Does the U.S. want to own that mess?
Trump can speed up Maduro’s removal without putting boots on the ground, said the Washington Examiner. He should start by strangling the illicit sale of Venezuelan oil to Cuba. Maduro uses the cash from that trade to buy his military commanders’ loyalty and “to procure Cuba’s highly capable security and intelligence support.” Of course, ordering the Navy to stop “oil cargo ships on the high seas is no small step.” But it might persuade Venezuelan generals to switch their allegiance to Guaidó. “It would also suggest to Maduro that he might be best advised to depart Venezuela now.”