VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION leaders and their international allies calculated that an attempt to push desperately needed humanitarian aid into the country on Saturday would trigger the final collapse of the country’s authoritarian regime. Sadly, their bet did not pay off. Security and paramilitary forces torched aid trucks and opened fire on opposition supporters — killing at least eight and wounding several hundred — even as President Nicolás Maduro danced on a stage in Caracas. The regime demonstrated that it remains willing and able to employ arms against opponents who can’t and won’t respond in kind. That leaves supporters of a peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela with a dilemma.
It wasn’t surprising that opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president, reacted to the bloodshed by hinting that he would call on those nations to consider using force against the Maduro regime. But as the Trump administration appears to recognize, a military intervention remains a bad option. It is opposed by key nations that have led the diplomatic campaign against Mr. Maduro, including neighboring Colombia. And it could create still greater chaos in Venezuela, which already is overrun with armed gangs, drug traffickers and Colombian guerrilla groups. A foreign force would struggle to pacify the country, especially if the Venezuelan army had been destroyed.
The right strategy is the one the administration and its allies continued to pursue Monday, which is bringing pressure to bear on the military to turn on the Maduro regime. During a speech at a meeting of foreign ministers in Bogota, Vice President Pence again promised officers that they could expect amnesty if they sided with Mr. Guaidó. So far, he said, nearly 200 military and security personnel had defected. Mr. Pence called on Latin American nations to step up sanctions against Venezuela, including freezing the assets of the state oil company, and he said new U.S. sanctions had been levied against provincial governors who oversaw Saturday’s repression.
The Trump administration has repeatedly hinted at military intervention. But Saturday showed the regime is ready to call that bluff. That means Mr. Guaidó and his international alliance must settle in for a potentially prolonged economic and diplomatic siege. The chances for success still look substantial, given the ability of the United States and its allies to choke off most of the regime’s revenue. But patience will be necessary — and, in the meantime, Venezuelans will continue to endure more violence and deprivation.