What could be a good Plan B?
Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan opposition launched a civilian uprising against Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday, calling for a popular uprising and the military’s support in ending Maduro’s usurpation.
The decision by the Venezuelan opposition to begin what Guaidó called “Operation Liberty” was based on the assumption that critical sectors of the military and the regime’s institutional apparatus would switch sides.
It was believed that key defectors in the Maduro regime would include the Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino; the president of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno; and the head of the presidential guard, Ivan Hernandez.
However, those expectations were not realized; the three cabinet members did not join the forces of the opposition and help depose Mr. Maduro, and the number of dissidents was not enough to put an end to the regime. These events prompted some to speculate that the attempt to overthrow Maduro had failed.
Although the plan did not work out as expected, it would be premature to make that speculation. Instead it is time for the opposition for begin considering a Plan B.
To think about Plan B, however, it is important to point out that Plan A has not really failed. The most important political opponent, Leopoldo Lopez, was released from house arrest with the help of defecting armed forces supportive of Guiado.
Other dissidents— most notably, the former chief of intelligence Chritopher Figuera—abandoned Maduro and declared their support for “Operation Liberty”.
We are now clearly seeing a situation where the regime, despite not having been overthrown yet, is displaying serious cracks. This indicates that it is neither the moment for the rebels to give up, nor the moment for the international community –especially the United States—to abandon its efforts to democratize Venezuela.
To evoke Patrick Henry’s legendary quotation that helped swing the balance in the American revolution and inspire independence movements in Latin America, the collapse of the Maduro regime is a matter of liberty or death for the Venezuelan people. Venezuelan citizens are literally fighting for their freedom.
Otherwise, they will be forced to live in a situation of tyranny— as well as physical and spiritual enslavement, as Cubans have lived under for the last six decades. For the United States, the survival of the regime means that the Western Hemisphere— the very neighborhood where the U.S resides— will continue to be infected with anarchy, drug trafficking, foreign terrorists and an increasing strategic advantage for its adversaries.
By the same token, the Venezuelan crisis will test the extent to which the U.S. is capable of checking Russian power and showing the world that it is not a declining superpower. Weakness on the part of the United States would bring us back to a situation reminiscent of the early 1960’s when, in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev forced president John F. Kennedy to guarantee the safety of the Castro regime. This helped turn Cuba into a seditious state that threatened to destabilize multiple countries in the region and eventually become an unpunished narco-state.
Just this past Thursday, the New York Times confirmed a fact that we have been ringing the alarm bell about for almost two decades: that the current Ministry of Industry and former vice president of Venezuela, Tarek El Assami, and his family have brought Hezbollah militants into the country, partnered with drug lords and actively cooperated in the production of cocaine. Although this is only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger danger, it confirms the extent to which Venezuela is a security threat to the United States and the region
Most importantly, the Times report originated in the Venezuelan intelligence community revealing a significant fracture in the security forces supposedly loyal to Mr. Maduro. Figuera’s departure confirms this. Furthermore, one could speculate that Padrino, Moreno and Hernandez failed to cooperate with the opposition because they were under the surveillance of Cuban intelligence. In fact, Maduro already knew about the plot on Monday morning, forcing Guaidó to initiate Operation Liberty a day before the planned date of the popular uprising. I take this opportunity to point out that every dictatorship— and more so every totalitarian dictatorship—is afraid of the military, as it is the only institution with the power to depose the regime. Therefore, it makes sense that Padrino especially would be under heavy surveillance, because Maduro does not fully trust him or the military institution in general.
I would also dare to bet that the military is frightened by a regime that relies primarily on Cuba. The direct involvement of Cuban Intelligence Directorate— one of the most effective intelligence agencies in the world— could also be the result of cracks within the Venezuelan intelligence and security establishment. In this sense President Trump’s threat to impose a full embargo of Cuba is a step in the right direction and should be implemented as soon as possible.
As the regime is showing signs of weakness, the struggle to overthrow must continue—although a full-fledged military operation might be bloody and unpopular in the United States.
In the recent past, we have suggested naval and aerial blockades on Venezuela. This could be a first step to prevent shipments of weapons and other supplies from Russia, Iran or China.
However, the movement of U.S troops to the Colombian/Venezuelan border in addition to a naval and aerial blockade, could also be a powerful psychological weapon. This could scare the military and security forces in Venezuela and make them reconsider whether it is worthwhile to continue to support the regime. Likewise, it would be important to offer guarantees to military and security officers that they would not be prosecuted if they agree to abandon Maduro.
American sanctions have obviously helped to change the minds of certain sectors loyal to the regime. This is certainly encouraging; however, as weapons and foreign assistance continue to flow to the rescue of the Maduro regime, the U.S must provide real backing; sanctions may not suffice. At this point, it is not only the U.S’s national security which is at stake, but also its role as the leader of the free world.