Venezuela's Saturday Showdown

On Saturday, emergency supplies of food and medicine are expected to arrive in Venezuela by land and sea. Venezuela's military, still loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, vows to stop the aid from entering. In a time of national crisis, the credibility of both the government and the opposition is now squarely on the line.


Venezuela's opposition says the relief supplies will provide desperately needed help for the country's suffering people. Maduro, his supporters, and military backers insist the aid deliveries represent a foreign invasion designed to force regime change. The rhetoric has gotten hot, and Washington is directly involved: Donald Trump, who supports Venezuela's opposition, says Maduro's military men risk "losing everything" if they stop the aid delivery, and Maduro threatens "another Vietnam" if the US tries to oust him by force. Delcy Rodriguez, Maduro's vice president, says the food and medicine are poisonous and can cause cancer.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido—recognized as Venezuela's legitimate president by the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Japan, and many European countries—says the opposition will surround all of Venezuela's military bases to demand delivery of aid. He and allied lawmakers are currently embarked on an almost 500-mile trek from the capital, Caracas, to the Colombian border to welcome cargo arriving by truck.

Maduro has threatened to close that border, but blocking the flow of aid won't be that easy. He has also pledged to close the border with Brazil after that country's government promised to deliver supplies into Venezuela. On Wednesday, a boat carrying 250 tons of aid left Puerto Rico headed for Venezuela, and Maduro's government announced it had closed Venezuela's maritime borders with the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire to keep the shipment out.

The political angle: But tomorrow's showdown is about much more than aid – the supplies piled on the Colombian border can feed 5,000 Venezuelans for ten days, but the country's needs are much, much greater than that. It's also about political leverage. Who will claim credit for providing for Venezuela's people?

This is one of those events that offers political opportunities to both sides. Maduro critics say he'll block shipments of humanitarian aid because he'd rather starve his country than allow someone else to gain credit for helping its people. Maduro backers point to the American flag decals on many cargo containers as proof that Guaido is an American agent and that aid shipments are a Trojan Horse attack on Venezuela's government.

The bottom line: The future of Maduro's government continues to depend on Venezuela's military. This showdown will test its loyalties in new ways.

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As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.