On Monday, a slew of European governments recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president. It followed their earlier ultimatum to Nicolás Maduro, the increasingly embattled incumbent, to call fresh elections. Once that call went unheeded, the diplomatic dam burst in Guaidó’s favor.
Leading the charge was Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose country has absorbed tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants. Like other Western countries, his government considers Maduro’s election victory last year to be fraudulent; on Monday, Sánchez urged a new vote that is “free, democratic, with guarantees and without exclusions, in which Venezuelans decide, with their voice and vote, their future, without fear, pressure or threats.”
“It is, definitely, the people of Venezuela who have to decide its future,” Sánchez added. That point was echoed by his counterparts across the continent, who hope to avoid accusations that they are forcing a regime change. French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Venezuelans' right to “express themselves freely and democratically,” while Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attacked Maduro’s “disregard of the rule of law.”
The developments have added to Maduro’s mounting woes. A majority of governments in Latin America are now calling for his exit from power — a list that may grow following the victory of an anti-establishment third-party candidate in El Salvador’s presidential election Sunday. At home, protests against Maduro’s rule are building momentum. Over the weekend, the opposition held some of its largest rallies to date and, tellingly, faced little pushback from security forces. The steady drumbeat of high-profile defections among the Venezuelan military and foreign service has continued.
Already enfeebled by U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil, Maduro is being cut off from other avenues of wealth. Last week, the Bank of England barred Maduro’s government from withdrawing some $1.2 billion worth of gold from its coffers. According to my colleagues, 75 percent of Venezuela’s imports now come from countries that officially recognize Guaidó as president.
Maduro, as he has done for years, pinned the blame for his troubles on Washington. “Everything depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire and its Western allies,” he told a Spanish broadcaster over the weekend, referring to the United States. He said the pressure campaign against his regime would lead to civil war and warned that a possible U.S. military intervention would turn into another Vietnam. Trump, for his part, refused to rule out the military “option” in Venezuela in an interview that aired Sunday.
“Stop. Stop, Donald Trump,” Maduro said. “You are making mistakes that are going to stain your hands with blood, and you are going to leave the presidency stained with blood.”
Other U.S. allies have been far more cautious in their rhetoric. “I think it’s far too premature to have any discussion regarding any type of military actions,” Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan told CBC last week. “We need to allow the diplomatic space and the experts to be able to move forward.” But there is no mistaking that the movement against Maduro is increasingly becoming an international consensus.
On Monday, foreign ministers from the Lima Group — a bloc of 14 Western Hemisphere nations formed in 2017 in response to Venezuela’s economic collapse — convened in Ottawa to discuss the next steps toward a “peaceful” resolution of the crisis. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the occasion to announce $53 million in funding in humanitarian assistance for Venezuela, including aid for the estimated 3 million refugees who have fled the country.
Maduro has so far blocked foreign offers of aid. But analysts suggest that an attempt to deliver humanitarian assistance across the Venezuelan border would be a tough loyalty test for the country’s security forces, which may be loath to halt vital supplies from entering the country.
Meanwhile, the regime still counts on the support of a motley crew of allies, including Turkey, Cuba, Nicaragua, Russia and China. The latter two nations feuded bitterly with the United States at a special session on Venezuela at the U.N. Security Council. But experts suggest their main interest now is financial.
“Russia is now so deeply invested in the Maduro regime that the only realistic option is to double down,” wrote Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow Center, pointing out that Caracas is still more than $6 billion in debt to Russian oil giant Rosneft — and the Russian state itself.
China, meanwhile, has plowed some $62 billion into Venezuela — mostly through loans — since 2007. But compared with Russia, it has been fairly soft-spoken in its defense of Maduro. At a briefing with reporters on Friday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed support for Venezuela “no matter how the situation evolves.” In an interview with the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, Guaidó insisted that a post-Maduro government in Caracas would view China as a “fundamental global player.”
But Maduro’s departure is hardly set in stone. The emerging coalition against his rule is united around new elections, but not much besides. In Europe, both a left-wing government in Greece and a right-wing populist government in Italy have so far rejected their neighbors’ decisions to recognize Guaidó. Mexico, a Latin American heavyweight, remains neutral on the matter and has called for dialogue between the rival camps.
Nevertheless, a startling shift in power does seem underway. Emiliana Duarte, a Caracas-based writer, pointed to the new sense of optimism animating Maduro’s opponents. “The strangest observation is that I am no longer the opposition,” she wrote in the New York Times over the weekend. “For more than a decade, I have been fighting against a government. Now I am fighting for one.”
A previous version of this report referred to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as “state broadcaster.” The CBC receives government funding but operates autonomously.
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