The big question is the military. Maduro is working hard to keep it on his side. There are some signs of cracks between the leadership and rank-and-file, but not yet enough to roll back Chávismo. A former Venezuelan general exiled in Washington told the Miami Herald, “The armed forces today do not have the capacity or the desire to go against the population in a massive protest.” Which suggests a possible strategy. It should be the policy of the United States and her democratic allies to encourage, support, and sustain the anti-Maduro marches of the past week. Finance Guaidò, his friends, and his institutions. Tighten the sanctions on Maduro and his cronies. And begin to zero out purchases of Venezuelan petroleum. The repercussions for markets would be minimal. Venezuela’s oil output is already at a 30-year low. Turn off the spigot entirely and heighten the contradiction between the generals’ self-interest and the bankrupt regime they serve.
Nor should the democracies be so quick to rule out military assistance. It is only after they are made to feel the threat of force that tyrants leave the scene. America could deploy naval assets, including a hospital ship, to the region and declare that we are ready to provide the new government humanitarian aid. Consider the alternatives. Venezuela could fall into civil war. Or Maduro might take a page from Bashar al-Assad’s playbook and invite foreign militaries to secure his rule. This idea is not as far-fetched as you might think. Recall that, at the end of last year, Russia deployed two Blackjack bombers to Venezuela. The bombers withdrew after the United States protested. But not before they had sent a message.