Originally published in pagina12.com.ar; translation by Michael Otto.
March 4, morning — Juan Guaidó is not about to drop his message of optimism. In his words, the transition is unstoppable and it’s just a matter of weeks, months at most. He repeated that message in each country where he was received: Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador, in some with all the honors reserved for a real sitting president, in others more discreetly.
There appears to be no reversal that could lead to a possible dialogue; he invariably repeats the same three steps: End the usurpation [Nicolás Maduro’s presidential term], form a transitional government and hold free elections.
This narrative of public speeches and comments on social networks contrasts with what the right wing is debating behind closed doors. [The period after] Feb. 23 isn’t developing as expected by the sectors whose roadmap is the interventionist outcome that, with rhetorical cunning, they seek to present as “military cooperation.”
The result was supposed to be otherwise: an escalation of the military narrative, which was to be presented openly in the Lima Group and the United Nations Security Council. It was supposed to reach the next stage, which had to be justified by the manufacture of public opinion after Feb. 23, with that day represented as a “massacre,” “burning of humanitarian aid” and “the line that was crossed.”
The opposite occurred, a progressive deescalation in the rhetoric that culminated with Elliot Abrams, who is officially in charge of Venezuelan affairs, affirming that military options are ruled out. Meanwhile, the governments of Latin America and Europe that supported Guaidó pronounced they were against any armed solution.
Consensus was publicly reached on the “political and institutional” solution, and Bolton announced that they will seek to create an international coalition to achieve the “peaceful transfer of power from Nicolás Maduro to Juan Guaidó.”
The ‘preferred option’
Several possible explanations show why the preferred option was to maintain the scenario on the same variables of economic attack, diplomatic and media communications encirclement. One of the answers is that the operation of Feb. 23 demonstrated that the balance of power that the right wing presented was unrealistic. That they overestimated their own strength was revealed in the speeches of Mike Pence, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Marco Rubio, Iván Duque, Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan right-wing who promoted this strategy.
Hand in hand with this, the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB) proved neither could they be broken nor was Chavismo in a state of terminal weakness. Taking out Nicolás Maduro is more complicated than the triumphalist narrative that Guaidó presents on Twitter and in diplomatic parlors. It means pursuing other steps for which agreements have yet to be reached internationally or internally.
One case, for example, is that of Brazil, where there is political support from the government of Jair Bolsonaro, but the Brazilian Armed Forces seem unwilling to get involved in an armed conflict with Venezuela.
The combination of elements has forced the pro-Guaidó forces to toss aside the repeated threat of “all options are on the table,” at least for the moment. The commanders of the operations seem to have exhausted a whole deck of cards, taken stock of the results of their actions and proposed new movements at each level, some on the surface, others under the table. But giving up publicly does not mean that they are giving up privately.
‘U.S. trying to foment mercenary war’
The vice chancellor of Venezuela, Samuel Moncada, condemned in the U.N. Security Council the threat that is brewing undercover: “The United States is trying to foment an indirect and mercenary war involving irregular guerrillas and armed groups.”
This involves a threat from well-known elements in Venezuela, while at the same time it gives a new dimension to the scenario in which it would occur. Since 2014, and especially in 2017, the right wing has deployed criminal gangs and paramilitary groups that raided barracks, police stations, besieged towns, hunted down Chavistas and set fire to food warehouses. They kept their organizational structures well past the surge, sent some of the forces to Colombia to receive higher levels of military training and carried out acts such as the attempted assassination of President Nicolás Maduro in August 2018.
What’s new is the current scenario of parallel government, the termination of dialogue and the final offensive explicitly led by the United States. At the heart of that plot is Abrams, an expert in setting up such operations, as he did in Nicaragua in the 1980s. One of the main territories from which these forces could be introduced would be Colombia; [Venezuela’s representative to the U.N. Samuel] Moncada also accused the U.S. of “the formation of a supposed Venezuelan army in Colombian territory to infiltrate our country.”
That hypothesis is linked with other aspects. One of them is the use that could be made of the members of the FANB who have crossed into Colombia with a promise of amnesty and the offer of US $20,000. Paramilitaries could masquerade as former FANB members, without involving the deserters but using their uniforms to carry out actions known as false flags or false positives. There is a Colombian government practice of carrying out such actions: High-ranking officers who have been promoted to Army Commander by President Duque are implicated in 23 cases of false positives, which in Colombia refers to killing civilians who are then passed off as guerrilla forces. This happened between 2002 and 2008, under Álvaro Uribe.
Dealing with this situation, the vice president of Venezuela, Delcy Rodríguez, was in Russia where she gave a press conference together with the Russian Chancellor Sergei Lavrov.
There, in addition to his explicit support for the Venezuelan government, Lavrov condemned the fact that the United States is “buying light weapons from Eastern European countries (Ukraine), machine guns, portable grenade launchers, among others, to be sent to Venezuela … they are trying to increase tensions in order to create a situation that would provoke an explosion, with bloodshed that would justify a military intervention; nobody hides that in Washington.”
Guaidó, the media epicenter of the strategy, announced that he would return to Venezuela and called for rallies this morning. The Lima Group of North American mouthpieces have denounced threats against him. What will happen when he arrives? Will he use illegal routes as he exited the country? The country seems about to enter a second stage of the assault. The cards have been shuffled.