Maduro is keeping his hands off Guaido... for now

When Juan Guaido declared himself the interim President of Venezuela recently, the first thought that went through my head was, “This guy is a dead man walking.” People who become an annoyance to dictator Nicolas Maduro have a nasty tendency to “disappear” rather quickly, either being thrown in prison or simply murdered in the streets. And Guaido was arrested shortly thereafter, but somehow managed to be released.

In a surprising turn of events, he’s still not only alive and free, but setting up his own presidential offices and holding rallies in the middle of Caracas. And at least for the moment, Maduro isn’t sending anyone to haul him away. He has, however, arrested more than 700 protesters who are supporting the opposition. (Associated Press)

More than 700 opponents of President Nicolas Maduro have been arrested during the latest push by Venezuela’s opposition to oust the socialist leader.

But there’s one anti-government activist security forces notably haven’t touched: Juan Guaido, the lawmaker who declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s rule.

Maduro’s refusal, at least so far, to order Guaido’s arrest reflects mistrust in his own security forces as well as the Trump administration’s warning that any harm to the man the U.S. recognizes as Venezuela’s legitimate leader would be crossing a dangerous red line.

I suppose it’s possible that Juan Guaido has, for the moment, succeeded in maintaining his freedom by hiding in plain sight. If this story were unfolding away from the notice of the rest of the world he would likely already be in a dungeon. But by creating such an international public image for himself and staying where there are cameras on him constantly, Maduro may be nervous about the backlash that would follow footage of his rival being dragged into a truck and hauled away.

The question here is how much longer Maduro will be able to restrain himself. Guaido isn’t just holding rallies in the public square at this point. As I mentioned above, he’s established a presidential office to conduct business and is even receiving foreign ambassadors. He’s in the process of building what the AP describes as “a parallel government.” Given Maduro’s well-known temper and tendency towards violence as a means to most ends, it will be shocking if he doesn’t move against his rival soon.

The other development to keep an eye on is what appears to be a shift in attitude among the military. Both the AP and CNN have interviewed rank and file soldiers who are saying they think Maduro is close to falling. The Generals still back Maduro’s government, but the enlisted men are complaining of poor conditions, food shortages and erratic pay. If a couple of generals were to flip, Maduro could be gone in a matter of hours. Perhaps that’s another factor staying his hand when it comes to going after Guaido.

I wouldn’t have believed it as little as a month ago. It’s possible that the Venezuelan people may actually be freed from their dictator.