There are three main scenarios for Venezuela following the decision by the United States and dozens of major world democracies to recognize Juan Guaidó as legitimate president, and to demand free elections to end that country’s humanitarian crisis.
First, one quick note on the latest developments: The so-called International Contact Group created by Mexico and Uruguay to seek a national dialogue in Venezuela will not go anywhere.
As Guaidó told me in a recent interview, he will not accept another “false dialogue” with Nicolás Maduro. At least four times in recent years, Maduro has used dialogues with the opposition to win time, then later jailed his political rivals as soon as international attention shifted somewhere else.
This time, Maduro must go before a transitional government convenes free elections, Guaidó said. Besides, Mexico and Uruguay are hardly neutral countries. Both — alongside Cuba, Russia and China — still recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president. Much of the rest of the world — including Canada, the 28-member European Union and Latin America’s biggest countries — recognize Guaidó’s government.
Maduro is forced to allow internationally supervised free elections.
Facing a U.S. embargo that cripples Venezuela’s oil exports — the country’s biggest source of income — and growing unrest at home as Venezuelans demand that the regime allow hundreds of trucks full of foreign food aid into the country, Maduro is forced by the Venezuelan military to accept free elections.
Much like the end of Sandinista regime in Nicaragua before the 1990 elections, Maduro negotiates a soft landing for himself and his military clique. He then loses the elections and moves to Cuba, where he begins a new life anchoring a daily TV show on the Telesur regional network, in which he plays the drums, sings and rants about U.S. imperialism. I’d put the probability of this scenario at 50 percent.
Maduro stays in power indefinitely.
Venezuela’s dictator manages to survive his current troubles with help from China and Russia, and international attention soon shifts elsewhere. As happened in Cuba, Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis deepens as international sanctions take hold, and millions more of Venezuelans flee the country. That leaves Maduro with fewer mouths to feed and with a population of mostly docile public servants who can be easily controlled through government food subsidies.
Problem is, neighboring countries will not put up with a regime-caused famine, triggering an even larger invasion of Venezuelans into their territories. And neither Russia nor China are likely to bankroll Venezuela forever, as they have done with Cuba. I’d put the probability of this scenario at 30 percent.
A U.S. or multinational military intervention topples Maduro.
Much like happened in Panama in the late 1980s, a U.S. court indicts Maduro and his cronies on drug trafficking charges, prompting escalating tensions that end with a U.S. military invasion. Or, similar to what happened on the Caribbean island of Grenada in the early 1980s, the United States invades Venezuela citing a Russian and Cuban takeover.
But while Panama’s military had 21,000 troops, Grenada about 2,000 troops — with no tanks or heavy weapons — Venezuela’s armed forces have 351,000 troops, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a British think-tank.
And Venezuela is a much bigger country than Panama or tiny Grenada. While an estimated 20,000 U.S. troops participated in the Panama invasion — most of whom were already in U.S. bases there — and 7,000 took part in the Grenada invasion, some U.S. analysts have estimated that invading Venezuela would take more than 100,000 U.S. troops.
There could also be calls for an Organization of American States intervention, like that in the Dominican Republic in 1965, or an intervention by the United Nations, like that in Bosnia in 1992. But the OAS would hardly get a consensus from its largest members, and Russia and China would veto any U.N. Security Council resolution to intervene in Venezuela. I’d give this scenario a 20 percent probability.
The current escalation of nonviolent sanctions is the best — and most plausible — chance in many years to force Maduro’s illegitimate regime out of power. If the pressure keeps growing, the odds are against Maduro.