The Endgame In Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro faces his toughest test since coming to office in 2013, as a mounting wave of street protests fueled by a newly-energized opposition have plunged the country into political crisis. Maduro was able to weather similar challenges to his power in 2015 and 2017, but there's reason to think he might not be so lucky this time around.


First, a charismatic figure, Juan Guaido, has emerged as a singular voice to lead the previously fragmented domestic opposition to Maduro's regime.

Second, the opposition has vocal external support. The US, along with regional powers like Brazil and Colombia (Mexico is the notable exception), strongly backs Guaido, and most of Europe is now looking to follow the US lead. Yesterday, the US placed sanctions on Venezuelan state-owned oil giant PDVSA, further squeezing the regime's main economic lifeline.

Third, Venezuelans desperately want to end an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that has seen the economy shrink by half since 2015, driven 90 percent of the population into poverty, and is expected to cause another 2 million people to flee the country this year.

But unlocking change in Venezuela will take more than simply sustaining popular protest. The key for Maduro is whether the country's deeply entrenched military remains on his side. Here are three ways the endgame could play out:

The bait-and-switch: Maduro could step down, flee the country, and allow someone else from the military to take over. A senior diplomat tells us that Russia, which has reportedly sent military contractors to protect Maduro, would like to see him flee to Cuba, making way for a suitably anti-American figure to take his place.

A brokered solution: Guaido and the military could strike a deal to oust Maduro and share power, guaranteeing his inner circle protection from prosecution. Guiado has already offered amnesty to soldiers that decide to abandon Maduro.

An opposition-led government: The government could also hold genuine elections – and respect the results. While the US and Europe might prefer this outcome, it remains the least likely. Barring heavy US military support, any new government will require the support of members of the existing regime. That will preclude the opposition from wielding complete control.

The bottom line: The opposition will hold major rallies tomorrow and Saturday. More important than the support of outside actors, the real test for Maduro and Venezuela will be how the military decides to respond.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.