The time of decision has arrived in Venezuela.
Something definitely seems to be different this time.
A new leader of the opposition has emerged who is capable of mobilizing and unifying the people, something no Venezuelan opposition leader has been able to do previously.
The man, Juan Guaidó, is a 35-year-old who was elected as member of the National Assembly for the State of Vargas in 2010. Last year as he was elected president of that body. He belongs to the Voluntad Popular Party (Popular Will), a social democratic party founded by Leopoldo Lopez.
Mr. Lopez is currently imprisoned under house arrest by Nicolas Maduro's regime.
Guaidó has courageously mobilized millions of people to the streets of Venezuela sending a clear message that Maduro is not a legitimate president.
Guaidó further proceeded to declare himself interim president of Venezuela, openly defying the dictatorship. Additionally, Guaidó received support and recognition from the Organization of American States (OAS) under the exemplary leadership of its Secretary Luis Almagro and from various countries in the Western Hemisphere including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Paraguay.
Despite the fact that Mexico, Bolivia, and Cuba have supported Maduro, there is mounting regional pressure on the regime to resign.
Now, the U.S. is also playing a significant role.
Not only has the U.S. recognized Guaidó as president but has also called for the removal of Nicolas Maduro. In response, Maduro broke relations with the U.S. and gave our diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country. However, the State Department is now saying since Maduro is no longer the legitimate president of the country, he has no right to force our diplomats to leave.
For the first time since Hugo Chavez’s rise to power in 1999, the U.S. has finally taken a stand with respect to Venezuela without any regard to accusations of imperialism. The current administration has done so without invoking anachronistic traumas of the past or expressing unfounded fears of provoking regional anti-Americanism.
Last Mondays detention of a group of 25 Venezuelan military officers for attempting to rebel against the regime raised the hope that the military might abandon its loyalty to the Maduro regime. Guaidó, himself, during Wednesdays demonstrations made several calls to the military to abandon.
However, the military made it clear that it continues to back Maduro.
Let us open our eyes and admit that the military is part of the problem, and not part of the solution.
It 's reasonable to expect that the Maduro regime will proceed to repress the population with the help of the military, para-military, Cuban advisers, common thugs, and criminals. Such repression could also possibly come from former FARC terrorists and Hezbollah fighters.
Chances that Venezuela will turn into a "Syria of the Caribbean" are not to be discounted.
Therefore, as we have already suggested in the past, the Trump administration must act quickly. First, it must apply heavy pressure on the Venezuelan military. True and effective sanctions have not been applied on the military as yet. The military has expanded its role in the economy and other civil sectors.
The military is in charge importing food, uniform manufacturing, a car assembly plant, and a construction company. The military also owns oil wells, sells and also distributes oil and gas products.
Many other companies were created specifically for the military.
It is here that the Trump administration must act forcefully and assertively.
So far only 44 individuals have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury. The Venezuelan Ministry of Defense, Vladimir Padrino, and the main protector and mentor of the military is not among them. Under Padrino’s tenure, the military increased its power in terms of wealth, privileges, and weapons.
Strong sanctions must be applied on the military as a whole, and this must include sanctions on the entire oil sector.
Likewise, the U.S. must reach out to the European community, asking them to follow suit. Venezuelan officers must be sanctioned and denied visas by every western country and U.S. ally.
It's crucial to not to miss this momentum that has been created in Venezuela.
What has been accomplished so far is what many have been hoping for, for a long time: strong leadership, massive civil disobedience, regional consensusm, and a U.S. administration determined to remove the Maduro regime.
We should not let go until the Maduro regime lets go its hold on power.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Barry University. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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