Latin America Advisor Q&A: Will a Failed Plot in Venezuela Strengthen Maduro?

I participated in a Q&A in the Inter-American Dialogue published yesterday along with Peter Hakim, Steve Ellner, Charles Shapiro, and Maria Velez de Berliner. Below is the question and my answer. The entire sequence can be accessed here.

Question: Venezuelan forces killed eight people and arrested several others—including two former U.S. Green Berets—in a failed attempt earlier this month to infiltrate the South American country by sea. Another former U.S. Green Beret purportedly masterminded the attack, which its organizers code named “Operation Gideon,” while Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó and U.S. President Donald Trump denied involvement. How will the incident affect support for Maduro and for Guaidó? How likely is the failed incursion to lead to Venezuelan government crackdowns on Maduro’s opponents? How does it affect the Venezuelan opposition’s efforts to unseat Maduro?

David Smilde: “It is important to remember that in the past three years since the Maduro government moved from electoral authoritarianism to hegemonic authoritarianism, the opposition has tried street mobilization, going to elections, international pressure and negotiations, all without results. Thus, this type of desperate measure should not surprise. Most damaging is Juan Guaidó’s failure to assume responsibility and clearly pivot to trace out a new strategy. This has produced a malaise within Venezuela and cast a shadow on his leadership among international allies. The opposition is hopelessly divided between those who think a strategy based on political mobilization and negotiation is the way forward and those who think that is naïve and just postpones foreign military intervention. Behind this, of course, is the Trump administration’s frequent statements that ‘all options are on the table.’ Few people close to the U.S. government think there actually is a military option, but it has captured the imagination of wide swaths of Venezuelans in the country and in the diaspora. Combined with a population being ground down by a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by U.S. sanctions, there is little chance the opposition will be able to mount a real political challenge to the Maduro government. At this point, the only way the current tragic equilibrium could be altered would be a change in the geopolitical interests and pressures at play. A negotiation between the United States and Russia, designation of a special representative by the United Nations or robust engagement by the European Union could reorganize the conflict.”