A note to readers: What's going on in Venezuela?

Scenes of mayhem in the streets prompted us to highlight a few key points from our recent coverage. A Venezuela cheat sheet. 

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, next to his wife, Cilia Flores, at the ceremony to mark the 17th anniversary of the return to power of the late President Hugo Chávez in Caracas, Venezuela, April 13, 2019.

What is going on in Venezuela?

Honestly, I haven’t read every Monitor story about the slow-burning political fuse that just exploded in Venezuela, but I thought it would be helpful to highlight a few key points from our recent coverage, with links to the full stories.

First, let’s look at the big-power politics.

The U.S. and some two dozen other nations are backing “interim” president Juan Guaidó’s efforts to wrest control from the increasingly authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro. Russia, China, and Iran are among those backing Mr. Maduro. The U.S. sides with Mr. Guaidó and has issued sanctions. It’s also invoking the Monroe Doctrine, the 19th-century U.S. policy declaring “hands off!” to other powers intervening in the Western Hemisphere. But that may have more to do with Russia than Venezuela.

“Experts see not so much a firm stand for democracy in the U.S. sanctions and other actions targeting the Maduro government as they do evidence of resurgent big-power competition across the globe,” wrote the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi on Tuesday. “The U.S. is claiming its hegemony over its ‘backyard’ in much the same way Russia is moving to reassert its influence and control over adjacent, former Soviet republics such as Ukraine.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that Mr. Maduro had a private plane fueled and ready to go to Cuba. The Russians, he said, told Mr. Maduro to stay and ride out the protests. 

If life is so bad, why didn’t this uprising happen sooner?

Yes, more than 3 million people have left Venezuela in the past two years, fleeing triple-digit inflation as well as food and medicine shortages. Most Venezuelans have lost weight – 19 pounds, on average, in 2015.

But Mr. Maduro is the successor to the late President Hugo Chávez. And Chavismo pulled millions of Venezuelans out of poverty. Mr. Chávez characterized it as “21st-century socialism” and called it a revolution.

“There are dark interests fighting against our revolution,” Saul Romero, a self-proclaimed “diehard Chavista” told the Monitor in February. The “rich global elite are after our oil, gold, and diamonds. They don’t care about democracy at all.”   

What’s going to happen next?

This week could be a tipping point. Or not.

If Guaidó fails to deliver on his promises this week, and public support for him fizzles, Venezuelans will find someone else to peg their hopes to, Alejandro Velasco at New York University told the Monitor’s Whitney Eulich Wednesday. “In 20 years there have been so many leaders that have come and gone that the hope is always there that ‘This one might be the one,’” he says.

All eyes are on the Venezuelan security forces – the police and Russia-backed military.

“We’re still not seeing enough of the highest ranks of the military abandon the Maduro regime to say the weight has shifted,” Paula Garcia Tufro, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center in Washington, told the Monitor Tuesday. “A big part of the calculus” going on within the military “is at what point do they believe the democratic transition will be sustained,” she adds, “and we may get a better idea of that in the coming days” of national protests.

If you want to read more about this crisis, and possible paths forward, check out our recent stories below.

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