GP Insights

GP Insights # 32, 5 May 2019

Venezuela: Internal plot or external hand?  
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

What happened?

On 30 April the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó in a video called the removal of Nicolás Maduro from power leading to the start of a military uprising. He reiterated that this attempt was not a coup but was a "peaceful rebellion" to remove Maduro who had lost the support of the military. He termed this as ‘Operation Freedom.’ Maduro was to fly to Cuba along with other agreement that was signed in a 15-point document.

The protest began on 29 April a day earlier; however, while few civilians took to the streets, many remained far from the scene because of the paramilitary forces of Maduro that might have been present in these areas. Many Venezuelan army defectors were also asked to back down to which they were disappointed with.

The Trump administration, who has been a keen supporter of Guaidó, went on to restate the 15-point document that was signed. However, Maduro’s plan had not taken off as claimed by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo because of Russian orders, a claim that the Russian leadership has denied. By Tuesday evening Maduro displayed his power and strength to the world by his appearance with a group of soldiers along with defence minister Padrino and one of the supposed defectors.

What is the background?

In January 2019, Juan Guaidó went on to declare himself as the acting president of Venezuela, stating that Nicolás Maduro the selected heir of Hugo Chavez came to power through an illegitimate re-election. Since then there has been a rise of tensions in the country. This has also gone on to bring the big players into the crisis, with the United States backing Guaidó and Russia and China backing Maduro.

The US has imposed a number of harsh sanctions and has proposed the use of military action to remove Maduro. Russia, on the other hand, has backed Maduro for its own interest, the Russians have a number of investments in Venezuela and their aim is to protect that irrespective of who is in power. The recent tensions and claims that have been thrown around between the two countries have created some amount of confusion, however, after a long conversation with Vladimir Putin President Donald Trump stated that his Russian counterpart and he had a positive outlook on Venezuela.

What does it mean?

This uprising highlights a number of implications. To a certain extent, the failed coup attempt is seen as a victory for Maduro, who now believes that he has the upper hand. There was no sense of panic or resistance that was seen from him when the uprising had begun and he only went on to address the public later on.

Guaidó has internal support in the form of popular support, through this uprising Guaidó proves himself to be a legitimate leader who would take Venezuela through the transition even though all his actions have not materialized. However, what he lacks is the support of the military, without which it will be difficult for Venezuela to see any change.

A key factor to be understood is that the military in Venezuela is not an organized institution, thus it owes no allegiance to the constitution and it only follows the orders of the President. Thus, there is an uncertainty of which side the army will lean towards.

Military intervention by the US is currently unlikely, even though Trump has gone on to state the use of military intervention, the Pentagon has declined this request. However, it is too early to determine whether there would be a change of opinion based on this.

The US-Russia and China squaring off in Venezuela had caused a rise in tensions. However, with the current engagement with these external players, this issue seems to be put aside, thus proving that factors that are determining the Venezuelan crisis are internal

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