Sanctions and a Military Coup? : Uncertainty and potential civil war in Venezuela

February 14, 2019

Dylan Ramshaw


The confrontation on multiple fronts is ramping up in Venezuela with a peaceful solution more in doubt. Opposition protests to the Maduro government are becoming more frequent after Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly announced himself to be the legitimate president of the country. He also has received official support from the US, Canada, and most of the EU. There was an indication last week from National Security Advisor John Bolton that the US was considering the escalation of military forces in Colombia that would signal a potential invasion for regime change. However, it is becoming more apparent that the US strategy with Venezuela is not overt US military action, although President Trump continues to reiterate that all options are on the table. What is more obvious is the continued economic pressure that US and other allies plan to exert in order to fuel the opposition and bide time for military defections and uprising.


Venezuela is in a prolonged economic depression and hyperinflation caused by economic mismanagement, falling oil prices, and US sanctions. The latter became even more damaging after the US imposedfurther sanctionson Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petroleos De Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) on Jan 28 to cut the main source of revenue and foreign currency. The sanctions prohibit most American businesses from engaging in transactions with the oil company, excluding Chevron and Halliburton. It is estimated that the financial penalties will block $7 billion in assets and result in $11 billion in export losses over the next year for Venezuela. Francisco J. Monaldi, a Venezuelan oil expert at Rice University in Texas, compared the sanctions to a “nuclear bomb.”


With the US putting the economic squeeze on Venezuela, what they and Guaidó’s oppositioncould be hoping for, is a mass defection or defection of key military leaders. On Jan 23, air force Gen. Francisco Yanez, was the first high-ranking general to defect. Guaidó has called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s armed forces. He alsohas accused the military of planning to divert international humanitarian aid headed for Venezuela. President Maduro responded by proposing to hold early National Assembly elections. This move could remove Guaidó and reiterated to potentially mobilize the self-proclaimed 1.6 million strong civilian militia.


There have been calls by some in the international community to address rising tensions peacefully and questioned the legitimacy of Guaidó.  Italy blocked a European Union statement recognizing Guaidó, and Ireland and Greece have called for new elections but have not recognized Guaidó. The members of the Lima Group met in Canada recently and issued a declaration of support for Guaidó, but it does not support the use of force to remove Maduro’s government. Three members of the Lima Group—Guyana, Mexico and St. Lucia—did not support the declaration. The Group is a multilateral body that was established following the Lima Declaration in 2017, where representatives of 12 countries met to establish a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela.Mexico, along with Uruguay, also offered to mediate negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition, but this was dismissed by Guaidó, most likely under direction of the US. The most outspoken supporters of the Maduro government have been Turkey, China, Iran and most notably, Russia. 


All indications are that the crisis in Venezuela will get a whole lot worse before better, and it seems by the design of the small, but growing opposition in the country, and by their powerful international allies. The question is whether the conflict transforms from an economic and political to an armed one. Ultimately, it may be a matter of the stakes the military has in Maduro staying in power or if popular opinion turns against Maduro. It is clear that the economy already decimated will not be able to bear much more stress and the people even less, but a civil war between various armed factions will not be resolved in short order.



Image: Juan Barreto / Getty Image / New York Magazine Intelligencer (link)


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grey Dynamics LTD.

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