May 24, 2019

Foreign Interests Converge on Venezuela

“The Hawthorne effect refers to the tendency of individuals to behave differently when they know they’re being observed. It’s on prominent display right now in Venezuela. On April 30, National Assembly speaker Juan Guaidó, after months of quixotic agitation involving travel and interviews, took to the streets with a smattering of armed soldiers to demand yet again that President Nicolás Maduro resign. The day quickly dissolved into clashes between protesters and security forces, and currently looks set to continue at least another day.

There is much about the current situation in Venezuela that future historians will have to piece together. One major question is what exactly the United States, which has come out strongly in favor of Guaidó, is doing behind the scenes to force Maduro’s ouster. Until that part of the story is clear, any analysis will be incomplete. What is obvious, however, is that the situation is not moving as quickly as Guaidó and his boosters in the Trump administration and elsewhere assumed when the speaker proclaimed himself interim president in January. Contrary to Guaidó’s hopes, the military has not abandoned Maduro en masse. Direct international intervention also remains unlikely, with Washington seemingly unwilling to commit troops and the neighboring Brazilian government, despite its far-right inclinations, ruling out any participation in a military campaign against Maduro’s self-styled socialist government. Guaidó has thus been reduced to managing expectations and trying to maintain international interest in Venezuela’s dire situation. The latter seems to be his only plausible path to power.

The very fact that Maduro’s regime did not immediately collapse when Guaidó anointed himself the country’s legitimate ruler four months ago seemed to suck the air out of Venezuela as a global front-page story. The country’s economic situation—food and medication shortages, power outages, and other infrastructure problems going back over a year—remains critical, but without consistent momentum on the part of those pushing against Maduro, Venezuela has, until Tuesday’s dramatic showdown, largely receded from the forefront of public debate around the world. For Guaidó, a lack of international attention almost certainly spells defeat. On his own, with the military remaining loyal to the established regime, he has vanishingly few options.”

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