Trump’s Flawed Plan to Oust Maduro

Why Washington Should Rethink Its Venezuela Strategy

Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó at a rally in Caracas, March 2019 Carlos Jasso / Reuters

On January 23, the Venezuelan National Assembly swore in 35-year-old Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president. In the hours and days that followed, the United States and more than 50 other countries recognized Guaidó, declaring the regime of President Nicolás Maduro illegitimate. At the time, it seemed that Maduro’s government might collapse within days. It didn’t. Now, almost three months later, Venezuela has become even more of a failed state than it was before. Devastated by economic and humanitarian crises and a predatory government and military, the country is now locked in a standoff between two men claiming to be its rightful president.

Responsibility for the tragedy in Venezuela lies squarely at the feet of Maduro and his predecessor, former President Hugo Chávez. But the United States’ attempts to force regime change risk making things worse. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has tried to pressure Maduro through tough talk, threats, and sanctions, including an oil embargo and an attempt to force a caravan carrying humanitarian aid across the Colombian-Venezuelan border. These tactics have failed to provoke a collapse of the Maduro regime or a significant defection of military personnel to the opposition. Not even the countrywide blackouts that have recently struck Venezuela have undermined Maduro.

Washington’s strategy—backing Guaidó against the deeply corrupt and fraudulently elected Maduro—is compelling, and no doubt plays well in Florida, with its Cuban and Venezuelan American diasporas. But the Trump administration’s belief that it can place enough pressure on segments within the government (particularly the armed forces) to force a quick and easy democratic transition is flawed. To make progress, the United States will have to work with its international partners to find a more moderate path forward.


Since January, the United States has worked hard to isolate Maduro. Washington has sanctioned more than 600 of Maduro’s friends and associates, prevented the Venezuelan government from selling oil to the United States, and worked with other governments

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