Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro arrives at the opening ceremony of the judicial year in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 24.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro arrives at the opening ceremony of the judicial year in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 24.


Cristian Hernandez/Zuma Press

International support for a return to democracy in Venezuela has been growing since Juan Guaidó took the oath of interim president on Wednesday. The crucial but underreported question now is whether dictator Nicolás Maduro’s protectors in Cuba and Russia will intervene to stop this democratic uprising.

The Venezuelan military holds the key to whether Mr. Maduro will step down peacefully. Common sense and reporting in the country suggest that a good part of the army is ready to side with the Venezuelan people. The rank and file have families who are also suffering the privation caused by nearly two decades of socialist rule.

Yet Cuba controls Mr. Maduro’s personal security detail and has built a counterintelligence network around the high command. Venezuela’s 1,000 or so flag officers operate in silos and are spied on by minders. An officer who sides with the opposition is putting his life and perhaps his family at risk. The head of the armed forces expressed support for Mr. Maduro on Thursday, but the real test may come if soldiers are ordered to fire on protesters or Venezuelans trying to protect Mr. Guaidó.

Nations that want better for Venezuela should focus as much on Havana as Caracas. If civilized countries want to end the starvation and mass migration of Venezuelans, they have to convince the Cuban regime to back off. That means targeting Havana with diplomatic pressure, as well as sanctions such as travel restrictions and frozen bank accounts.

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The Kremlin is also backing Mr. Maduro. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that if the U.S. didn’t stay out of Venezuela there “would be a catastrophic scenario that would shake the foundations of the development model we see in the Latin American region.”

But Cuba is the imperial power in Caracas, not the U.S., and the only recent “development” in Venezuela has been malnutrition. Russia certainly wouldn’t mind a Syrian-style civil war in Venezuela that spread more chaos in the Americas and more opportunity to undermine democratic governments.

The U.S. must also protect its diplomatic personnel in Caracas. Mr. Maduro on Wednesday ordered Americans to leave the country within 72 hours, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo replied that the U.S. now recognizes Mr. Guaidó as interim president and will not comply. The U.S. needs to make clear that if Mr. Maduro or his paramilitaries act against Americans, the Administration will hold Cuba responsible. Now that Venezuelans are risking their lives for democracy, free nations owe them support.



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