Venezuela: Guaidó Makes His Move

Yesterday, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced the "final phase" of his bid to unseat President Nicolás Maduro from power. Flanked by soldiers, he urged Venezuelans into the streets and called for the country's military to rise up against the Maduro regime.


Thousands of civilians heeded his call, clashing with police in Caracas and other major cities. But although US National Security Adviser John Bolton claimed that top members of the regime had agreed in recent days to oust Maduro, so far it looks like the military is sticking with him. That's crucial.

The endgame in Venezuela has seemingly dragged on forever. Here is the background for this latest, and perhaps decisive, clash between Guaidó and Maduro:

What has changed recently: Venezuela's economic situation was already dire when Guaidó returned to Venezuela in March after rallying foreign support for his cause, and since then the situation has worsened. Massive blackouts have roiled the country and the US has tightened sanctions on Venezuelan crude exports – one of the regime's only sources of money. At some point, the economic squeeze could fracture Maduro's inner circle and alienate his main external financial lifelines – Russia and China. But we're not there just yet.

Will the generals flip? This has always been the key question. So far, Maduro has managed to keep the top brass on his side, while tamping down the occasional revolt by members of the junior ranks. On Tuesday, Leopoldo López, a former opposition leader who has been under house arrest, appeared alongside Guaidó for his video broadcast, suggesting that soldiers who had been guarding him had changed their allegiance. But Guaidó needs defections from the higher-ups if he wants to succeed. So far, the brass isn't budging.

Maduro's crackdown calculus: He's already moved to shut down the internet and social media. But if a critical mass of citizens and soldiers does rise up against him, he'll have to decide whether to crack down, and how hard. That's not an easy calculus. He'll want to suppress any massive challenge to public order, but at the same time, if he orders his troops to fire on a large number of people and the soldiers ignore him, his authority would be crippled and it could be game over for him.

Maduro might also prefer to wait and see if this attempted putsch fizzles out on its own. If that happens, it could finally be game over – not for Maduro, but for Guaidó.

Want more? Read this thread on what Guaidó may be up to, written by the author of a book on coups.

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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.