Careful not to discredit their cause in the eyes of a wary international community, US officials and opposition leader Juan Guaido have continued to imply that a military intervention to remove Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro remains an option as the strongman has proven surprisingly resilient in the face of an internationally backed challenge to his rule.
However, many may not realize just how close the situation came to an all-out military conflict late last month, when a skirmish over a US-funded humanitarian aid convoy left at least two Venezuelans dead. As the fighting raged along the Venezuela-Colombia border, a group of 200 exiled soldiers were readying their weapons and preparing to forcefully overpower the Venezuelan national guardsmen and “escort” the caravan of supplies across the border.
According to Bloomberg, which reported the aborted coup attempt on Tuesday, the group backed down at the last minute after Colombian officials – who promised to maintain some semblance of peace during the demonstrations – caught wind of their plan, which had been organized by retired General Cliver Alcala, and quickly shut it down.
But now that Guaido is back in Caracas, with the support of 50 nations who recognize him as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela, the situation along the border is looking increasingly parlous. And as BBG pointed out, as the situation drags on, the calls for a military intervention will only grow louder.
Led by retired General Cliver Alcala, who has been living in Colombia, they were going to drive back the Venezuelan national guardsmen blocking the aid on the other side. The plan was stopped by the Colombian government, which learned of it late and feared violent clashes at a highly public event it promised would be peaceful.
Almost no provisions got in that day and hopes that military commanders would abandon Maduro have so far been dashed. Even though Guaido is back in Caracas, recognized by 50 nations as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, the impromptu taking up of arms shows that the push to remove Maduro – hailed by the U.S. as inevitable – is growing increasingly chaotic and risky.
As the standoff drags on, the urge to seek some sort of military solution will only increase. Guaido himself hinted at such an idea in the immediate aftermath of the failed aid mission. His comments got a cool official reception in Washington, Bogota and Brasilia but Senator Marco Rubio, who has helped shape U.S. policy on Venezuela, seemed to cheer them on. President Donald Trump has said all options remain on the table.
Bloomberg based its reporting on interviews with Latin American and US officials. Alcala also acknowledged the plan. Unfortunately for the retired general, while a few dozen Venezuelan national guardsmen defected during the border clashes – which many believed were staged to curry sympathy for Guaido and ratchet up pressure on Maduro – the Socialist leader still commands the loyalty of both the Venezuelan military and government-aligned militias/death squads.
This article is based on interviews with U.S. and Latin American officials and Venezuelan exiles, some of whom asked not to be identified speaking about confidential matters. Alcalá, the retired general, did acknowledge the plan to escort the aid across the border and said he understands why the Colombians wanted to avoid trouble. A Colombian government spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But in a rare nugget of honesty, reportedly conveyed to BBG by a Latin American official, the US officials charged with managing the crisis – US, Sen. Marco Rubio, National Security Adviser John Bolton and special envoy Elliott Abrams – are just waiting for Maduro to give them a reason to intervene. The plan, as it stands, is to ratchet up economic and political pressure on his regime until Maduro makes a move that would “warrant more aggressive action” (with Guadio back in Caracas, it’s not difficult to imagine what that might be). European and Latin American diplomats have expressed concerns with this approach, because – surprise, surprise – “trust of Trump is low.”
To try and curry favor for an intervention from Venezuela’s neighbors, the US is warning that the country’s refugee crisis, already one of the worst in Latin American history, could accelerate if Maduro remains in power, sending another 1.5 million refugees into Colombia and Brazil, which are already struggling with their own economic troubles.
Should the US opt for an invasion, the prospects of a swift resolution are low: For context, Venezuela is twice the size of Iraq, and it has its own army and militias.
Which means it’s only a matter of time before the conflict in Venezuela blossoms into yet another one of the US’s “forever wars.”
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- “Let’s be very clear. The military is involved”: Retired US Army General On Regime Change Attempt In Venezuela
- Guaido Returns To Venezuela, Announces That Maduro Government Will Face More Sanctions