Guaido comes home to Venezuela today... and a jail cell?

Following a big concert event and another failed effort to get tons of food and medical aid over the bridge and into Venezuela, opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido is scheduled to return to his native country today. We expect to see (and Guaido has publicly called for) another round of massive protests in the streets against dictator Nicolas Maduro. At this point, I have to believe that Guaido is either incredibly brave, incredibly stupid, or he knows something we don’t know yet. (Reuters)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido plans to run the risk of arrest by returning home on Monday, after he ignored a court-imposed travel ban and toured Latin American allies to boost support for his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido’s return, details of which his team have kept under wraps, could become the next flashpoint in his duel with Maduro as he seeks to keep up momentum and spur his international backers to further isolate the socialist government.

His arrest could allow the opposition to highlight how the Maduro administration represses political foes and prompt the United States to impose even harsher sanctions. But it could also strip the opposition of a public figurehead who has brought unity after years of infighting.

How Maduro responds will tell us a great deal about where we stand at this point. The fact that Juan Guaido is still above ground and drawing breath is rather remarkable when you consider how Nicolas Maduro has run the country up until now. The old Maduro would have simply thrown Guaido in a dungeon if he didn’t have him killed outright. If he leaves Guaido out on the streets upon his return, we could be seeing signs that the tyrant has grown fearful of all the international attention and pressure he’s been attracting. Even on the local level, Maduro may be growing fearful of his own people and his military.

By now, most of the western world has either recognized Guaido as interim president or at least called the last elections illegitimate and called for a new vote with international monitors. (The big exceptions to that list remain Russia, China, Turkey and Iran.) There have been some defections from the military, but not many among the high-ranking officers. Protests in the streets in support of Guaido continue, but none of them have turned into actual assaults on government buildings or officials.

That’s why the current situation remains something of a stalemate. There are no new elections scheduled and there won’t be unless Maduro says so. A popular uprising or revolution could take him out of power, but without the military turning on him it would be a bloody battle with no assurances of success. In other words, short of an external military intervention (that’s clearly not going to happen any time soon), the two sides are at loggerheads. If Maduro were to toss Guaido in prison it could trigger a violent revolution, but Maduro may simply be thinking he can wait this out and let the protesters continue to starve until they no longer have the energy to take to the streets.

Pray for the people of Venezuela. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but there is no immediate relief on the horizon as far as I can tell.