Venezuela: Guaidó’s botched coup – what does it mean and what's next?

Just before dawn on 30 April, the Venezuelan opposition launched yet another attempt at a military coup. By the end of the day, the botched coup attempt seemed to have failed, with one of its leaders seeking refuge in the Spanish embassy, 25 of the soldiers involved requesting asylum at the Brazilian embassy and Juan Guaidó in hiding or on the run.

The coup started at 5.46 am with a video message by Guaidó, who proclaimed himself president in charge on 24 January at a street rally, but who has not moved an inch closer to Miraflores Palace since. In the video, he appeared outside La Carlota military airbase in the east of Caracas, together with a small group of army soldiers. Also present was Leopoldo López, the opposition leader under house arrest for his role in the deadly guarimba riots of 2014. Apparently, he had been released by the SEBIN intelligence officers in charge of guarding him.

Guaidó’s message was clear: “I am with the main military units of our Armed Forces starting the final phase of ‘Operation Freedom’”. This was the final battle against ‘usurpation’. The presence of López was a powerful prop. However, as was to become clear in the following hours, his claims to have the support of the “main military units” was a lie. He did not have control of any military units or bases, no commanding officers were on his side. In fact, despite claims to the contrary he was not inside La Carlota base, but outside. He had not taken control of any TV or radio stations.

Guaidó called on the people to come out on the streets nationally. Some joined him in the east of Caracas and clashed with the National Guard protecting the air base. At one point, the hundreds of rioters, which included a few soldiers, managed to breach the outside perimeter, but were repelled with tear gas volleys. Not what you would expect from a ‘proper’ military coup.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Caracas, thousands had gathered outside the Miraflores Palace after an appeal made by Maduro on Twitter just after 10am, where he also said that he had contacted the chiefs of all military units and that they were all loyal to his government. A few high-ranking Bolivarian officials spoke, particularly Diosdado Cabello, but other than that the stage was given to representatives of the chavista left and rank-and-file organisations, which never feature in the official demonstrations. The mood was one of determination, there was a spirit of resistance.

Imperialist support

Of course, the US rushed to support the coup in Venezuela with tweets and statements by Trump, Pompeo, Elliot Abrams, Marco Rubio et al. They were followed by the presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Chile and even the European Parliament. Organisation of American States secretary general, Almagro also joined the chorus.

During the day, Pompeo and Bolton made all sorts of statements and insinuations in an attempt to bolster Guaidó’s effort. Pompeo hinted that high-ranking officials in Venezuela had agreed in talks with the US to remove Maduro. Bolton specifically mentioned Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, military counter-intelligence (DGCIM) and Presidential Guard chief Ivan Hernandez, and Supreme Court of Justice Maikel Moreno. "Key figures in the regime” had been “talking to the opposition over these last three months”, he said and appealed to them to “make good on their commitments to achieve the peaceful transfer of power from the Maduro clique.” Later on, Bolton declared that Maduro had had a plane ready to leave for Cuba but had been dissuaded by the Russians. Despite all this boasting and psychological pressure, Padrino came out in a televised address expressing, once again, his loyalty to the government.

Things on the ground in Venezuela were not going well. Some of Guaidó’s soldiers took the first opportunity to defect, claiming they had been tricked. One of them explained how officers had given them weapons at the Helicoide, the SEBIN headquarters, and told they were going to put down a mass jailbreak.

After being repelled at La Carlota, and when it became clear that the coup was fizzling out, Guaidó still tried another trick. He led a few thousand of his supporters, including some of the soldiers he had in his video in the morning, westwards towards Miraflores Palace. This was an attempt to repeat the script of the 2002 coup, when the opposition leaders marched their supporters to the presidential palace, where they would be attacked by snipers hired to create a justification for a military coup. As Marx once said, history repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce.

Guaidó did not have the hundreds of thousands the opposition commanded on April 2002, and his triumphant march was swiftly blocked by the National Guard. He quickly retreated to Altamira in the east.

A pitiful defeat

As dawn approached in Caracas, Leopoldo Lopez and his family had hidden in the Chilean embassy and 25 soldiers were asking for asylum at the Brazilian embassy. There was an announcement that Guaidó was going to address the nation at 6pm, but the time came and went and nothing happened. The coup seemed to have completely fizzled out. Later on, Lopez and his family moved to the Spanish embassy.

Trump was so frustrated that he issued even more threats against Cuba:

“If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba.”

Guaido coup botched 3 Image fair useGuaidó is on the run, Lopez is hiding in the Chilean embassy, and 25 defector soldiers are seeking asylum in the Brazilian embassy. This shambolic coup has gone down to defeat / Image: fair use

This is completely preposterous. The reason why the attempts at regime change by the US in Venezuela have so far failed is not because of “operations” by “Cuban Troops” to cause “destruction to the Constitution”, but rather a combination of the stupidity and miscalculations of the Venezuelan opposition and its masters in Washington, the resilience and anti-imperialist spirit of a large section of the Venezuelan people, and the support that Russia and China are providing the government. In fact, US sanctions, its seizure of Venezuelan assets and other imperialist measures are certainly causing death and destruction!

It is clear that Trump thinks that, by exerting pressure on the Cuban Revolution, he will be able to break the back of the Maduro government. The US has already toughened up sanctions against Cuba, including implementing, for the first time, a clause in the Helms-Burton act that allows US citizens to sue companies in third countries using property in Cuba that was expropriated during the revolution. This is a scandalous act of imperialist aggression, which can have a very negative impact on the already fragile Cuban economy.

Finally, at 8.24pm, Guaidó came out with a delirious video message on Twitter. Rather than admitting the failure of his attempt, he announced “tomorrow [May 1] we will continue the implementation of Operation Freedom,” he thanked the Armed Forces for their “support” while insisting that “Maduro does not have control of the Armed Forces”.

The problem for Guaidó and Trump is that they have built the momentum to a “day of reckoning” twice already, on January 24 and February 23, and failed on both occasions. Very soon, if the situation does not turn in Guaidó’s favour today, we will start to see the fracturing of the opposition amongst mutual recriminations and backstabbing. The opposition ranks, mainly drawn from middle-and-middle-upper class layers, will feel disappointed and betrayed by their own leaders, once again, as was the case with the 2014 and 2017 guarimbas.

Why did the coup fail?

The failed coup yesterday raises a number of questions. This was a completely botched attempt: the coup did not control any military bases nor units, had no support from any commanding officers, no TV or radio stations were taken and it was dispersed with tear gas, so, why did they launch it?

Did they expect support which did not materialise? Did they believe their own lies about mass support amongst the population and an amy that was ready to crack and all that was needed was a spark in the form of action? Was it pure desperation at their lack of success? Why did they not wait until 1 May, when they had announced mass demonstrations? Did they fear the turn out was not going to be massive?

The government, for its part, seems to have acted in a very indecisive manner. No TV statements by Maduro for 15 hours, no use of the army to crush the coup, no high-ranking government officers at the rally in Miraflores. Was it an attempt to prevent bloodshed in an open military clash, as Maduro argued in his TV address last night? Was the government unaware of how far the conspiracy went? Was it not sure that it could count on military units to use them against the coup?

Some are saying the coup had high-ranking support from SEBIN, DGCIM and other units, but it was launched prematurely, and that it had been planned for 2 May, after the intended opposition rallies on 1 May. This would go some way to explaining today's somewhat bizarre events, and it would be a worrying sign for the future, as it would mean military commanders were involved, but recoiled at the last minute. From what we know, there were elements in SEBIN involved in the coup. Some of the soldiers taking part declared that they had been given weapons at the SEBIN headquarters. Apparently, SEBIN director Manuel Christopher Figuera was removed from his position and arrested.

All along, we have said that the fight against the coup cannot be left to the army generals. They have their own interests and that is what they will defend. As long as they think these are best defended by the Maduro government, they will remain loyal. If they think this government is going down and is no longer able to protect their interests, they will seek to intervene in order to guarantee them in the short, medium and long term.

The continuation of the economic crisis, aggravated by sanctions, together with international pressure, might, at a certain stage push key players within the Armed Forces to want to save their own skins by removing Maduro.

Even now, the situation is not completely under control. Guaidó has led an actual coup attempt, with troops, and has not yet been arrested. Lopez has not been arrested either and remains free to hop from one embassy to another.

The IMT and the Venezuelan comrades from Lucha de Clases in Venezuela have argued since January that Guaidó should be arrested, the National Assembly disbanded and strong measures taken against coup plotters, including arming and developing the militia and expropriating the coup plotters and imperialism. Furthermore, we argued against moving Leopoldo Lopez from jail to house arrest. Events yesterday are a further demonstration that we were right.

Today is May Day, and there will be opposition and chavista demonstrations in Caracas and across Venezuela. The fact that Washington’s coup attempts have been so far unsuccessful does not mean they are going to abandon their aims. Yesterday, Yahoo News published a report about the proposal by private mercenary company, Blackwater to create a 5,000 strong mercenary army to intervene in Venezuela. US sanctions and seizing of Venezuelan assets are having a crippling impact on an economy already weakened by five years of recession.

Our duty is to oppose this imperialist aggression, as we have consistently done since this latest attempt began on 24 January. At the same time, we must point out the only methods that can guarantee victory over the counter-revolution. The Venezuelan comrades of Lucha de Clases were outside Miraflores Palace yesterday. In a statement, they put forward the following slogans: Jail Guaidó, disband the coup-plotting National Assembly, strengthen and spread the Bolivarian militias, respond to the seizing of assets by expropriating imperialist multinationals, expropriate the coup-plotting bourgeoisie, workers control of production, down with bureaucracy, complete the revolution with rank-and-file organisation.

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