The turmoil in Venezuela showed no signs of abating over the weekend as President Nicolás Maduro relented on his demand that American diplomats leave his country.
The temporary concession came shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking before the U.N. Security Council, on Saturday implored the nations of the world to “pick a side.”
The U.S. has certainly picked a side: That of Juan Guaidó, leader of the country’s National Assembly, who essentially declared himself president earlier in the week, and promptly received support President Donald Trump.
Furthermore, a major internal conflict is growing evermore likely as Guaidó’s claim to power is viewed as a U.S.-orchestrated coup by some, certainly including Maduro, who once again raised the specter in an interview on CNN Turk on Sunday.
Venezuela is “the victim of a US conspiracy,” he said. And this isn’t going to go down well.
“Nobody gives us an ultimatum. All of Europe is bowing down to Donald Trump. It’s that simple, especially when it comes to Venezuela,” said Maduro, who also accused Trump of being “overwhelmed” by domestic issues, adding that the American president “despises the world.”
Indeed, with the U.S. leading the charge, several other countries have followed suit, though notably, not Cuba (which is a key security partner for Venezuela) nor China and Russia, both members of the U.N. Security Council.
Pompeo’s statements came as Maduro, angered over a Trump’s support for Guaidó, wanted to break all diplomatic ties with the U.S. and ordered American diplomats to leave Caracas. The U.S. refused, saying it did not recognize Maduor’s authority.
But even as France and Germany have joined the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council in asking for elections in Venezuela, , China and Russia have urged the U.S. to back away from its current course, which includes demands that Maduro step down and hold fresh elections within eight days.
Even if Maduro were to agree to this — which he has not — it would be a huge feat to pull off in a country that has been battered by potlicial and economic turmoil for around four years.
Rampant corruption and fiscal bleakness have driven round after round of protest, some of them deadly. Under Maduro, thousands have been jailed, the country’s civil society has been diminished as have human rights.
This has prompted targeted U.S. and E.U. sanctions, pushing the country’s currency into free fall, driving inflation rates to astronomical levels, resulting in major shortages of food and medical supplies.
At least 3 million Venezuelans have fled their countries, causing a migration crisis in neighboring nations such as Colombia and Brazil.
By all accounts, Maduro’s second term (and there are many questions about the legitimacy of his second election) has been catastrophic.
But as of now, he remains the country’s president, if for no other reason than the fact that he enjoys the support of the military’s top brass, even as there are some fissures showing in the lower ranks. Over two dozens members of the National Guard being arrested last week, accused to organizing against Maduro.
The biggest sign that the president might be losing favor among military elite was the defection of Colonel José Luis Silva, Venezuela’s military attaché in Washington. On Saturday, Silva announced his loyalty to Guaidó, and urged other to follow his lead.
“My message to all armed forces members, to everyone who carries a gun, is to please let’s not attack the people. We are also part of the people, and we’ve had enough of supporting a government that has betrayed the most basic principles and sold itself to other countries,” he said.
But military elite within the country are, in fact, part of the corrupt system bolstering Maduro, and benefitting economically from his rule, making it unlikely that they would at this point pressure him to either step down or go into exile.