The failure of an uprising against Venezuelaâ€™s authoritarian regime last week has left opposition leaders and their foreign supporters debating what went wrong. Did the generals and other senior regime officials who reportedly agreed to help remove President NicolĂˇs Maduro deliberately deceive opposition leaders? Did Russia persuade Maduro to stand fast? Or did the premature launch of the uprising and the unexpected appearance of formerly imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo LĂłpez at a military base cause the regime plotters to back down?
Whatever the truth, the failure of the rebellion is a tragedy for Venezuelaâ€™s long-suffering population. The opposition movement, which aims to restore democracy, has been demoralized, even if it remains intact; Maduro so far has not dared to move against leader Juan GuaidĂł, who has been recognized as Venezuelaâ€™s interim president by more than 50 countries. The regime, for its part, is incapable of restoring control over the country or addressing its epic humanitarian crisis, which has left Venezuelans desperately short of food, medicine, power and water, and has caused more than 3 million people to flee the country. Given the U.S. embargo on oil trade with the country, the suffering seems sure to intensify in coming months.
That makes the need for a solution all the more urgent. Some in the White House are pressing the Pentagon for military options, but the Pentagon is rightly reluctant. GuaidĂł also seems skeptical; he told The Washington Post that if offered U.S. military action, â€śwe will evaluate itâ€ť - while indicating that any intervention should come in support of dissident Venezuelan soldiers.
In reality, U.S. military action can serve Venezuela only as a threatening prospect that incentivizes senior commanders to move against Maduro. A country of roughly 30 million people with a well-equipped army and a heavily armed civilian population, Venezuela is not Grenada or even Panama; intervention would be costly. The best route forward remains that which GuaidĂł and LĂłpez were pursuing before last week: a negotiated deal that would replace the regime with a transitional government that would prepare for internationally supervised free elections, with the military acting as a guarantor.
Greater international coordination would increase the chance of success. Latin American countries are divided, with one camp demanding Maduroâ€™s ouster and another pressing for negotiations. European governments have set up a â€ścontact groupâ€ť with some of the more dovish Latin Americans, while Russia and Cuba are backing the Maduro regime. The Trump administration increasingly appears to be following its own course, with erratic interventions by President Donald Trump.
Whatâ€™s needed is skillful diplomacy that unites as many of the international players as possible behind efforts to reengage the Venezuelan military and opposition on a transition plan. That ought to be the role of the United States; if the Trump administration canâ€™t or wonâ€™t play it, others will have to step forward.