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!

Every day thousands of people legally cross back and forth between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on their way to jobs, schools, doctor's appointments, shopping centers and the homes of family and friends. This harmonious exchange has taken place for more than 400 years, uniting neighbors through shared social ties, geography, history and, most importantly, an interlinked economy.

Beyond the people and goods, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez also converge in a cross-border flow of ideas, ambition and aspirations that have shaped the region for centuries. This forward-looking spirit is what attracted Microsoft to the region in 2017, when it launched Microsoft TechSpark to create new economic opportunities and help digitally transform established industries with modern software and cloud services. It's also why Microsoft announced on Monday that it is expanding the TechSpark El Paso program to include Ciudad Juárez and making a $1.5 million investment in the binational Bridge Accelerator. Read more about the TechSpark announcement here.

Since Syria's brutal civil war began eight years ago, millions of Syrians have fled their country to escape the bombs and bullets. But hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Syria's borders, where they languish in packed refugee camps. The al-Hol camp in northern Syria is sprawling, and of its nearly 70,000 residents, some 11,000 are family members of foreign ISIS fighters, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The surprise American withdrawal from northern Syria last week paved the way for Turkey and Syria's Bashar al-Assad to move in. Some 160,000 civilians have now fled the border region that Turkey is bombarding, deepening a humanitarian crisis in a stretch of Syria that had been relatively secure since the defeat of ISIS's self-declared caliphate back in March. Here's a look at the camps for displaced people in the area.

Syria is quickly turning into US President Donald Trump's most significant foreign policy blunder to date. It's looking like it might be for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, too.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced a fresh wave of sanctions on Turkey, in a bid to get Erdogan to halt his invasion of Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria. Yes, you may recall, that's the same invasion that the US green-lit last week by withdrawing American troops from the area.

More Show less

Mozambique's democracy test Mozambicans voted yesterday in an election that will test a fragile peace accord between the ruling Frelimo party, led by president Filipe Nyusi, and Renamo, a former rebel group-turned-opposition party. The two factions were on opposite sides of a Cold War-tinged civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people between 1977 and 1992. Frelimo, which has ruled Mozambique since independence, has been losing popularity due to a corruption scandal, but is likely to hold onto power at the national level. Renamo, which foreswore violence just two months ago in exchange for electoral reforms that will help the party, will be hoping to make regional gains that allow it to win some key governorships. Disputes over the final vote count and even outright fraud or violence are possible in coming days, particularly if Renamo fails to make its hoped-for gains.

More Show less

What's the update at the Syria-Turkey border?

Well, it is increasingly in the hands of Assad and the Russians, who the Kurds have flipped with. The United States withdrawing some troops away from the border, the Turks coming in, but they going to be limited in how much they can do given the fact that ultimately, Assad and Russia has most the firepower and Turkey does not want that fight.

More Show less