Maduro continues to resist US' increasing pressure

Published 30.01.2019 17:58
Handout picture taken on January 29, 2019 and released by the Venezuelan Presidency on January 30 shows Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaking at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. (AFP Photo)
Handout picture taken on January 29, 2019 and released by the Venezuelan Presidency on January 30 shows Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaking at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. (AFP Photo)

While Venezuela's elected president urges his people to resist an "imperialist coup attempt," the country's self-declared interim president is holding fast, especially with the support of Western countries.

The South American country leapt into world headlines last week in the wake of the Jan. 10 swearing-in of President Nicolas Maduro, following his winning reelection last May.

On Jan. 23, Juan Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly, declared himself interim president.

Guaido claimed that the main opposition had boycotted the elections, so even if Maduro received 68 percent of the vote, he allegedly had no legitimacy.

Shortly after Guaido's declaration, the U.S. recognized him as interim president, followed by Australia, Canada, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Argentine, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

On the other hand, Mexico, Russia, Cuba, China and Bolivia voiced support for elected President Maduro to stay in office, as did Turkey.

Meanwhile, Maduro announced that he had cut diplomatic ties with the U.S., claiming that they are facing a coup attempt by Washington.

He gave American diplomats working at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas 72 hours to leave the country.

When the U.S. urged countries worldwide to take sides, several European countries backed Guaido and called on Maduro to leave the post.

On Jan. 26, Germany, Britain, France and Spain gave Maduro an ultimatum, saying that unless he announces early elections within eight days, they would support Guaido.

The EU also joined their call for snap elections.

US wants to get rid of Maduro as soon as possible

With only three days left in the ultimatum, it remains unclear what the future holds for Venezuela.

Under these circumstances, it seems quite difficult to predict how the situation in the country will develop.

Guaido coming forward and declaring himself interim president, and the quick recognition of this by the U.S. and a host of other countries, reinforces the impression that all this was an action plan prepared in advance.

The U.S. administration seems to want to get rid of Maduro as soon as possible, using economic, military and political pressure to reach this goal.

US economic pressure

Washington has applied targeted and tightening economic pressure to change the country's leadership.

U.S. sanctions announced Monday on Venezuelan oil companies PDVSA and Citgo are likely to cause Maduro economic headaches.

Experts say a significant amount of PDVSA's cash is in U.S. banks.

Venezuela's cash flow will be seriously damaged, say experts, as $7 billion in assets is expected to be blocked, and at least $11 billion in oil revenues will be lost through next year.

Washington also handed over the controls of Venezuelan accounts in U.S. banks to Guaido.

Maduro, who has continued the social policies of late President Hugo Chavez, is believed to be facing a dire economic situation, and cutting aid to the poor is likely to leave him in a difficult spot.

Taking control of oil revenues — the basis of Venezuela's economy — from Maduro and giving it to Guaido, and the decision to sanction oil companies, is the boldest U.S. move so far to raise pressure on Maduro.

Army loyal to Maduro

One way the U.S. could seek to get rid of Maduro is military intervention.

But even after President Donald Trump said "all options are on the table" for Venezuela, direct military intervention does not seem likely.

This week, observers were abuzz after cameras spotted the handwritten words "5,000 troops to Colombia" — Venezuela's neighbor — on a notepad carried by U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Some said Bolton did it on purpose to give a warning to Venezuela.

Senior Senator Lindsey Graham also said during a conversation with Trump, the president had raised the option of using military force in Venezuela.

The U.S. is also said to evaluating the option of using Venezuela's own army to mount a coup instead of using American soldiers.

However, to date there has been no opposition to Maduro in the Venezuelan army, except for small and lower-ranking groups.

For now, the army seems loyal to Maduro.

The extent of political support Maduro gets from the international community could be decisive for Venezuela's future.

Maduro has the support of Russia, China, and Iran, the U.S.' biggest rivals. But such countries working in Venezuela could affect the size of support for Maduro.

Possible scenarios

One of the most frightening scenarios for Venezuela is the transformation of the political crisis into civil war.

If the Trump administration chooses a military intervention or does so with the help of nearby countries, that could lead to bloodshed in Venezuela.

But this so far seems an unlikely scenario as there has been little conflict despite high political tensions.

Another scenario for Maduro is to develop a formula for ending the crisis by establishing a dialogue with the Trump administration. One solution might be Maduro leaving the country but in return, negotiating continuation of a government that would pursue his policies.

This scenario also seems unlikely because of support from the people and loyalty of the army.

For now, the reality is that Maduro is using his authority as the elected president of the nation against an opposition leader who declared himself interim president.

Maduro said Guaido's act violated the Constitution and the law, and that the judiciary had to step in.

On Jan. 29, Venezuela's Supreme Court, which remains loyal to Maduro, froze Guaido's bank accounts and barred him from leaving the country, stating that the opposition leader has "caused harm to peace in the republic."

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