Despite media speculation, foreign intervention either in support of the government or of the opposition is not a viable way to end this crisis. The political costs associated with any type of external intervention, including military action, a trade embargo and broad sanctions, are extremely high. Of all the countries that could intervene on behalf of the opposition, the United States is by far the most capable. But the United States’ current strategy is to let countries handle crises within their own regions rather than inserting itself in affairs extraneous to its interests. Washington has more immediate concerns to deal with – Venezuela is relatively low on its radar.

International organizations could also intervene, but they lack the capability or political will to do so. Groups such as the Union of South American Nations International, the Organization of American States and the Common Market of the South, or Mercosur, do not have organized, joint security forces, and they have limited means of influencing the behavior of their member states. But more important, Venezuela’s relationship with these groups is ambiguous: Caracas announced its intention to leave the Organization of American States and is currently suspended from Mercosur.

Mercosur could invoke the agreement its members made to uphold democracy and impose punitive measures such as ceasing trade, stopping communications, banning travel and closing borders. But the group has yet to enact these measures. Once a precedence has been set, it is difficult to undo. And those most affected by this crisis are the Venezuelan people and supporters of the opposition movement. Other Mercosur members and countries in the region do not want to impose measures that could cause harm to a civilian population that is already facing severe consequences from the upheaval.