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Venezuela: Stronger Than They Look, Weaker Than You Think

Venezuela: Stronger Than They Look, Weaker Than You Think

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó's dramatic bid to unseat President Nicolás Maduro earlier this week failed. But as we head into the weekend, neither man is as strong as his supporters hope, nor as weak as his opponents think.

Here are the big lessons from this week.


Maduro survived the biggest single challenge to his rule since he took power six years ago. Defections from the military were minimal, and no high-level figures bolted on him. Furthermore, while repression by the military was firm, he avoided turning the day into a bloodbath that could have galvanized more forceful internal or external pressure.

And yet he still has several challenges to deal with. First, a rogue faction within his domestic security services appeared to have freed a major opposition figure, suggesting that loyalty to him is more fragile than it seems. And the fact that it took him 12 hours to appear on TV to assert control also wasn't a great sign. Second, Washington's claims that top members of the military were in talks with the US about ousting Maduro will – even if unverified – sow discord and suspicion within Maduro's inner circle. And third, Venezuela is still suffering the worst peacetime economic collapse of any country in living memory. Maduro (still) doesn't seem to have a plan in sight to fix that.

Guaidó, for his part, failed in his biggest bid yet to unseat Maduro. Whether because of poor planning, faulty intelligence, or a communications blunder, he was simply unable to muster a critical mass of anti-Maduro support, either on the streets or in the higher ranks of the military.

But on the plus side, he is still a free man. Not only that: he is a free man who still enjoys credibility not only on the streets but with foreign governments, more than 50 of which still recognize him as the rightful president of Venezuela.

That's not nothing. But the challenge, after Tuesday's stumble, is that he's increasingly hard pressed to keep both the optics and the momentum moving in his favor.

Meanwhile, in Finland: The top diplomats from Russia, which backs Maduro, and the United States, which backs Guaidó, may have a tete-a-tete Monday on the sidelines of a meeting of Arctic powers. You can bet Venezuela will top their agenda: Secretary of State Pompeo claims Russian pressure is the only thing that kept Maduro from fleeing to Havana this week, while Foreign Minister Lavrov has warned the US to stop meddling in Venezuela. Sparks may fly!

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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