The political crisis in Venezuela has led to domestic and international polarization. The current debate revolves around who is entitled to exercise power, since Juan Guaidó and Nicolás Maduro dispute the presidency; and the National Assembly and the Constituent Assembly, the legislative power. On the other hand, the United States, the Lima Group and the European Union have offered themselves as mediators so that this Administration leaves power peacefully, while Russia and China call for non-interference and defend the sovereignty of the Bolivarian Republic.
One month after the proclamation of Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela, the international community has tried to send humanitarian aid to the country. At some border points, aid was able to enter, thanks to the fact that several soldier groups have recognized Guaidó’s authority. However, in other points things have gone differently, as Maduro has considered this aid an American show and a violation of his sovereignty. Of the thirty four trucks with humanitarian aid sent, only two were able to enter the country, according to the EU’s Monitoring Humanitarian Aid Special Commission. According to this institution there were 161 protests, 8 blocked border crossings, 131 wounded and 5 dead, as a result of clashes between civilians and the military. As a result, this all prevented the entry of aid by blocking the streets and burning the trucks, which contained tons of food and medicines.
After this exercise of violence, Guaidó announced that he will participate in the Lima Group meeting to discuss “possible diplomatic actions”, and said in a tweet that events at the border force him to formally ask the international community if they should have opened all options to achieve the liberation of a homeland “that fights and will continue fighting”.
Does the door open to a foreign military intervention? It is not very clear, but we can already glimpse the alternatives that each bloc will support. For example, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said it is time to act in favour of democracy and respond to the urgent needs of the people of Venezuela: “The United States will hold responsible those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela, and will take action against them”. By contrast, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, Josep Borrell, has warned that his country would not support a foreign military interference in Venezuela and that “not all positions are on the table” to solve the crisis.
If Venezuela agrees that the U.S. Army enters the country, it would be repeating the history of some of its neighbours. Thus, this would not be the first time that the U.S. intervenes in another country of the American continent, which it considers part of its “sphere of influence”, in order to cause institutional changes. In 1991, 3,000 U.S. military arrived in Haiti to maintain order after the coup that expelled Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power. George Bush sent another 20,000 troops to Panama to capture the dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega in 1989. Counterinsurgent forces were financed in 1984 to curb communism in Nicaragua. In 1970, Washington, through the Condor doctrine, coordinated a cooperation network in Latin America aimed at capturing and executing political opponents in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. In 1961, they tried —unsuccessfully— to overthrow Fidel Castro.
So, the U.S. capacity to provoke changes in Latin American countries is not in doubt. Perhaps, the division in the Venezuelan Army, caused by the irruption of the figure of Guaidó, allows an intervention that finds less resistance and violence from a weakened government. However, nothing guarantees that this is sufficient to expel Maduro, or that the end justifies the means. The world is waiting for the decision of the interim president, who, in just one month, has renewed the hope of Venezuelans who want to restore democracy.
This leader cited several articles of the Constitution to support his legitimacy on January 23rd, such as Article 233, which empowers Parliament to declare the popular revocation of a president’s mandate for a number of penalties such as death, removing legal capacity due to physical or mental disabilities or forcing resignations or dismissals. Article 333 shields any attempt to repeal the Constitution by some mechanism other than the one provided therein. And Article 350 enables Venezuelans to ignore any regime, legislation or authority that contradicts democratic values and guarantees, or impairs human rights. This is one of the strongest accusations towards Maduro after his arrest of 200 opposition leaders, according to the NGO Foro Penal; the violent repression of citizens who demonstrate in the streets, or the arbitrary closure of media outlets.
Does the door open to a foreign military intervention? It is not clear, but we can glimpse the options that each bloc will support
Despite this, Chavismo has not shown any signs of surrender, and its supporters have described the interpretation of the articles of the Constitution on which Guaidó relies on as illegitimate and creative. While tank trucks, cargo containers and soldiers with tear gas prevented humanitarian aid from entering on February 23rd, Maduro appeared in the media dancing salsa with his followers in his March in Defense of the Revolution, as if nothing was happening . The loyalty of the armed forces to him has prevented opposition authorities from approaching State institutions; and the support of global powers like China and Russia has given him oxygen despite the economic suffocation derived from the sanctions that the international allies of the opposition have implemented to force his departure.
The use of creativity can also be attributed to Maduro. Following the request to call elections by the European Union, the Lima group and other world leaders, he said he would agree to hold them, but not to elect a new president, but an assembly, which is the only institution controlled by the opposition currently. This, on the other hand, continues to manifest itself to reach the polls, but an even greater challenge will be to provoke a change in the armed forces. As they enjoy a high degree of immunity in the country thanks to the Chavista leader, and lately they have been blamed by international justice to be behind various smuggling and drug trafficking networks, it will be difficult to convince them.
It is far from ideal that the illegitimate Nicolás Maduro continue to govern, due to the economic and humanitarian crisis facing the country and the probable increase in violence during the upcoming demonstrations. A peaceful exit could be caused by international pressure, but the wounds of the Venezuelan people could make it difficult for citizens to agree to negotiate with senior government officials. Another option, although unlikely, is that the armed forces change their loyalties and help Juan Guaidó gain the presidency. And a third possibility would be a foreign military intervention. For now, nobody knows how many more days Maduro will be in power, but Venezuelans must remain on the streets and the international community must continue to support Guaidó so that the Constitution is respected.