Ever since Venezuela began seriously melting down last year we’ve been focusing on two ways that Maduro might be removed from office and some semblance of “normal” returned to the country. The obviously preferable one would have been for popular protests to convince the President to hold a new round of fair, open elections, lose office and leave gracefully. Clearly that’s not going to happen. The second, less appealing option would be for the protests to blow up into a full-scale revolution, with Maduro leaving office by force, assuming he survived the transition. The death toll would be horrible and it would take the nation a generation to recover at least.

But what if there were a third way? Some observers are now turning their eyes toward the Venezuelan military and wondering if they might cease supporting Maduro and take matters into their own hands. (Reuters)

Venezuelan soldiers are increasingly weary of the popular backlash against their role in quelling anti-government protests and all eyes are on the military to see if it will remain loyal to President Nicolas Maduro…

The opposition is now looking towards the military to see if it will turn against the government and pressure Maduro to enact its demands, which include presidential elections.

More than 120 people have been killed in the protests, drawing international condemnation of the security forces’ heavy-handed tactics.

This is obviously not an ideal situation either, but desperate times do call for desperate measures. A military coup rarely works out well, though in a few rare cases it at least brings about stability and an eventual transition back to civilian authority. (See Egypt for one example.) Could that be on the horizon in Venezuela? The press interviewed one soldier who seemed disheartened by the entire situation, particularly the need to go out and beat down his own fellow citizens. He’s quoted as saying, “If we do not defend the regime, we are traitors and our careers are ruined. If we defend the government, we become enemies of the people.”

Clearly none of the military leaders are talking about this openly, but if the rank and file troops are angry enough this could turn into a serious problem for Maduro. Having essentially claimed dictatorial powers this summer, the strong arm of the military and, to a lesser extent, his armed militias are the only tools he has left to keep his starving, rioting citizens in line. If he loses their support, he’s pretty much standing alone against the tide of history. Never a good position to be in.

But what sort of power structure would replace the Maduro regime if the military took him out? It seems unlikely that they would simply turn over control to a leader from the opposition party on their own authority. More likely we’d see a general take charge, someone high up in the ranks of the Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela). But if you leave the generals in charge for too long, a whole new set of problems might follow.

For now, President Trump continues to call out Maduro, declaring that he’s responsible for the safety of the Venezuela opposition leaders who were arrested immediately following Sunday’s vote. There are new sanctions in place and some tough rhetoric, but nothing much else seems to be feasible at the moment. Until we get a better sense of what Maduro’s long range plans are or the opposition / military makes a move on him, we’re probably looking at a waiting game.