When young Venezuelan revolutionary Juan Guaido won the backing of Western leaders back in January, the political winds seemed to be blowing in his favour. Every politician from the White House to Brussels was lining up to endorse him as he declared the Maduro regime to be illegitimate. He was subsequently supported by the Venezuelan parliament as interim president, if only in name. But warm words of support from the West and from ordinary Venezuelans were never going to remove the biggest barrier standing in Guaido’s way: the Maduro-controlled military.
The momentum behind Guaido seemed to ebb throughout the spring. But now Guaido finds himself back in the world’s headlines. In a video posted online yesterday, Guaido announced the release of long-time political prisoner Leopoldo López who appeared alongside him, along with around a dozen military dissidents who had turned their back on Maduro. Together they called for a military uprising against the government – in other words, a coup.
Guaido's decision to appear alongside López will not have been lost on Maduro. López was one of the first political campaigners to criticise Hugo Chavez’s regime before Maduro came to power; he is a household name across Venezuela and has mentored Juan Guaido since his student days. His release after four years of imprisonment sends a clear message to Maduro and to the Venezuelan public that change is seemingly within reach.
One political group in the West, however, remains unhappy at yesterday's events: Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign vehicle Momentum. Early yesterday morning the group tweeted that news of the coup was ‘deeply worrying’ and that ‘US imperialism must always be opposed’:
Deeply worrying news of an attempted military coup in Venezuela, supported by Trump and the White House. US imperialism must always be opposed.
Solidarity with the Venezuelan people! ✊
— Momentum (@PeoplesMomentum) April 30, 2019
The condemnation of the Maduro regime – and the hunger, corruption and lawlessness it has unleashed on Venezuela – has been universal across the West. Yet Momentum remains supportive of Maduro, yoking the continuation of the regime to their ‘solidarity with the Venezuelan people’. One doesn’t need to back Guaido’s bid to take control to agree that the Venezuelan people have been betrayed by their government. And yet Momentum refuses to hold Maduro responsible for the hyperinflation, widespread food shortages and the complete lack of even the most basic medical supplies in the country.
Momentum’s attempt to conflate their support of the regime with their support for ordinary Venezuelans is the sort of rhetorical flourish that Maduro himself is fond of.
On Tuesday he tweeted that all the military commanders had reaffirmed their allegiance to ‘the people, the constitution and the fatherland’.
At first glance it seems odd that he fails to mention any expression of personal support from military commanders for him as a leader. That is, until you realise that he considers support for ‘the fatherland’ and ‘the people’ as de facto support for him – he sees his own fate and the country’s fate as one and the same. Therein lies his danger.
This rhetoric is to be expected from a paranoid dictator who fears ceding power. But the fact that Momentum is deploying a similar version speaks volumes about the views of the Leader of the Opposition and his support base. Whether or not the bid to seize power is successful – and it appears not to have been, with Maduro today claiming to have defeated the 'coup' – the left's failure to change its perspective on Venezuela cannot fail to rear its head every time Guaido’s name pops up in the news.
Momentum’s declaration that they stood in ‘solidarity with the Venezuelan people’ ironically echoed the words of Donald Trump – the very man who they were seeking to condemn. Trump tweeted to say that ‘the United States stands with the Venezuelan people and their freedom’. It’s clear Trump sees Guaido as the answer to Venezuela’s woes but, with no overt support from commanders at the top of the military hierarchy, Guaido’s path to success remains as difficult as ever.
In the meantime, the Maduro regime continues to deploy every trick in the book to thwart both Guaido and civilian protestors. Only yesterday, footage emerged of a military vehicle purportedly mowing down protestors in Caracas. CNN, who were broadcasting a live feed from the protest, claimed to have had their channel immediately taken off air.
Up until now, Guaido has been keen to show he is doing everything by the book in line with the Venezuelan constitution. But faced with a backdrop of censorship and increasingly violent policing, even he is realising that, without a military intervention, the Maduro regime is here to stay.