Let's face it: The Venezuelan coup has fizzled

When opposition leader Juan Guaido called for the military to join him and oust dictator Nicolas Maduro yesterday, I suggested that he was making a high stakes bet against long odds and it might backfire on him. Barely 24 hours later, it looks as if that bet isn’t going to be paying off. There were sporadic protests in a number of areas, with Guaido’s supporters throwing stones and even tear gas canisters at some soldiers, but by the end of the day, he was still standing with only a handful of soldiers at an airport near Caracas. The anticipated, wide-scale revolt of the military didn’t happen. (Associated Press)

He called it the moment for Venezuelans to reclaim their democracy once and for all. But as the hours dragged on, opposition leader Juan Guaidó stood alone on a highway overpass with the same small cadre of soldiers with whom he launched a bold effort to spark a military uprising and settle Venezuela’s agonizing power struggle.

Like past attempts to oust President Nicolas Maduro, the opposition seemed outmaneuvered again Tuesday. What Guaidó dubbed “Operation Freedom” triggered a familiar pattern of security forces using repressive tactics to crush small pockets of stone-throwing youths while millions of Venezuelans watched the drama unfold with a mix of fear and exasperation.

The opposition’s hoped-for split in the military didn’t emerge, a plane that the United States claimed was standing by to ferry Maduro into exile never took off and by nightfall one of the government’s bravest opponents, who defied house arrest to join the insurrection, had quietly sought refuge with his family in a foreign embassy.

So is it over? Perhaps not, since the “real” protest was originally planned for today (May Day), but Guaido jumped the gun, possibly trying to gain the element of surprise. But the military has had a full day and a night to decide if they were going to flip sides and back Guaido’s bid. While the head of the secret police did turn his back on Maduro, we didn’t see much significant action in terms of soldiers with blue armbands by last night. (The armbands worn over uniforms are the insignia of the opposition at this point.)

A few of us were going back and forth on this question on social media yesterday and one of the most common complaints I heard was that the United States wasn’t doing enough to back the coup. Some were suggesting that we should at least be sending enough guns and other military equipment to counter the influence being exerted by the Russians. This idea seems not only impractical but dangerous.

The Russians have special forces troops on the ground, military aircraft, and other equipment. Should we send in our own troops or even conscript some locals to fight under our flag as a response? If so, we’re suddenly fighting a proxy war with the Russians. We’ve been down that road in South America in the past and it rarely ends well for the host country.

Also, who would we be shipping arms and equipment to? Who in Guaido’s orbit has not only the authority but the physical capability to receive such a shipment and distribute the weapons to the correct people? Maduro has so much of the infrastructure locked down that it’s probably more likely that the shipment would be intercepted and Maduro’s forces would wind up using our own weapons against Guaido’s supporters.

Perhaps today will bring a new surge of revolution and the story will change, but it doesn’t seem all that likely. As Ed noted yesterday, Maduro’s forces have all the guns and a popular uprising without winning the support of the military is probably doomed to a bloody defeat. Unless and until Guaido can get the military to back his bid, not to mention getting the Russians out of there, it’s tough to see the status quo changing significantly.