BOGOTÁ — A clash of titanic proportions for the control of Venezuela is taking place both out in the open and behind the scenes, between those seeking to topple President Nicolás Maduro and those who want him to remain in office. The struggle involves various local, regional and global actors. And the result could either be the socialist regime's downfall, its survival, a hybrid situation that will prolong the crisis, or negotiations that could lead to free elections.
On one side is a perfect storm to end the Maduro regime: a united opposition around National Assembly speaker Juan Guaidó, people on the streets, and diplomatic isolation promoted by the Lima Group and the United States. On the other is a wall of resilience that the Bolivarian regime has been building for years, precisely in anticipation of a day like this.
What if he keeps winning?
Washington's biggest weapon so far has been to strike at the Venezuelan treasury, blocking the accounts of the state oil firm PDVSA and its subsidiary CITGO in the United States, threatening governments and institutions engaging in financial transactions with Caracas, and sanctioning regime leaders. After that, there is still the option of military intervention, which is a leap into the unknown.
The strategy of economic strangulation has often worked, when it comes to overthrowing regimes. But in the meantime, Russia, Turkey and Cuba have mobilized to counter that measure, and reinforce the key pillar that keeps the regime from collapsing: the army generals. These must be receiving offers from all sides to stay with or abandon Maduro.
While it is impossible to imagine Maduro keeping power to the end of his current term, in 2025, every new day spent in the presidential palace of Miraflores is another little win for him. And what if he keeps winning? What if, with each little victory, he ultimately comes out on top in this power struggle? What would the consequences be?
For Venezuelans, it would mean prolonged impoverishment, misery, shortages, more infant deaths in hospitals, massive emigration and the extended ransacking of the nation's resources by the 21st-century socialists.
January clashes in Caracas — Photo: Rayner Pena/DPA/ZUMA
For the United States, Maduro's continuation would be a significant geopolitical defeat in its backyard, perhaps too costly to contemplate after declarations by Trump administration figures on the regime's certain end.
For Colombia, it would be a calamity. A reinvigorated Maduro will seek revenge against its neighbor and historic rival that has pulled out all the stops to assure his overthrow. He would fortify the rearguard bases provided to the Marxist ELN guerrillas and other criminal groups. He would foment mass migration, perhaps even of undesirable elements, and the long border between Venezuela and Colombia would become the setting of all types of scraps and clashes.
It would be a calamity.
And for Latin America it would mean a step back in the process of democratization that began in the 1990s.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin would show once more, as he did in Syria, that he does not abandon his allies. He allows budding dictators to catch their breath. Indeed, if Maduro holds on, it sends the message that one can still be a despot in the second decade of the 21st century, and not die in the process. Just the thought of it is overwhelming.
See more from Opinion / Analysis here