|Opposition leader Juan Guaidó — who had secretly crossed the border into Colombia to lead the aid effort, running the risk
of being barred from reentry or arrested upon return — was scheduled to meet with regional leaders, including Vice
President Pence, in Bogotá on Monday.
In a tweet late Saturday, Guaidó suggested that he would entertain more radical solutions to try to oust Maduro, a reference
taken by observers to mean that he may broach the subject of additional moves by the United States, which has already
imposed deep sanctions on Venezuela.
The Trump administration has also repeatedly said that a military option in Venezuela is not off the table.
“Today’s events force me to make a decision: to pose to the international community in a formal way that we must have all
options open to achieve the liberation of this country that is fighting and will continue to fight,” Guaidó tweeted.
Guaidó’s comments suggested the opposition’s limitations after a plan they had hoped would cause deep fissures in Maduro’
s military structure instead produced only modest cracks. In the face of Maduro’s military blockade of aid, they largely
failed to bring in the assistance they had hoped to deliver to the neediest Venezuelans.
The opposition’s strongest American backers, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), sharply criticized Maduro and
“After discussions tonight with several regional leaders it is now clear that the grave crimes committed today by the Maduro
regime have opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago,” Rubio tweeted late
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a statement Sunday saying he was “shocked and saddened” by
the deaths of civilians on Saturday.He denounced the use of lethal force, and appealed for calm, urging “all actors to lower
tensions and pursue every effort to prevent further escalation.”
Yet as Guaidó and other opposition leaders prepared for a pivotal meeting with the U.S. and other regional allies, they also
appeared to be running out of options.
Last month, the United States imposed sweeping sanctions that effectively cut off Maduro’s biggest source of hard
currency – oil sales to the United States. In doing so, the United States has already pulled the most powerful economic
lever it had.
The sanctions risk worsening a humanitarian crisis here, since the nearly-bankrupt government — now even more cash-
strapped — is the chief importer of food and medicines. The U.S. calculation is that the sanctions will make Maduro’s rule
untenable. But there are still no guarantees they will do anything more than make a bad situation worse on the ground.
After an aid operation that failed to achieve its goals, the opposition is also in danger of losing its greatest ally: Momentum.
The opposition and its American and regional allies will continue trying to court military officials by promoting the promise
of amnesty if they turn against Maduro. But observers say that worse case scenarios loomed larger “than ever.”
“There is no question that a military intervention to resolve the Venezuela crisis is more plausible than ever,” said Michael
Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. “Guaidó’s insistence that ‘all options are
on the table’ echoes President Trump’s words, first uttered in August 2017 and widely interpreted as serious consideration
of military action.”
No military option would be clean or easy, while critics say its threat potentially helps Maduro – an autocratic leader who
has used repression against his own people – portray himself globally as a leftist martyr persecuted by the Trump
U.S. forces, experts say, could take out Venezuela’s aerial defenses within hours, but an outright American invasion would
be unprecedented in South America. It also risks deep divisions in the region, and could potentially spark a guerrilla war by
leftists while leaving Washington with the morass of rebuilding a failed state.
More surgical strikes – as the U.S. operation that nabbed Panama’s Manuel Noriega in 1989 – remain potentially more
likely, but also present massive problems.
“When Noriega left, the regime collapsed, and there wasn’t much behind him,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the
Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. “In Venezuela, you can decapitate the regime, but there will still be
[leftists] and armed goon squads who may be spoiling to fight.”
Colombian officials said more than a 100 members of the Venezuelan armed forces and other security services abandoned
posts on Saturday and Sunday, but the power structure of Maduro’s armed forces, at least for the moment, appeared intact.
In a televised press conference in Caracas, Maduro’s communications minister Jorge Rodriguez insisted that Saturday’s
effort by the opposition was simply a ruse to encourage a foreign invasion.
“There was no humanitarian intention,” Rodriguez said. “The intention was to encourage aggression by a foreign country,
an armed aggression against a country,” he said. “Guaidó, a pathetic character, can no longer explain this coup attempt
based on the constitution.”
Guaidó is the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, a body stripped of its power in 2017. Last month, he
declared Maduro a usurper after elections last year widely viewed as fraudulent, and claimed a constitutional right as
Venezuela’s legitimate leader. In doing so, he electrified a moribund opposition and positioned himself as a national hero.
Yet, by leaving the country to lead the aid effort, he now faced a crucial hurdle. His exit violated a standing travel ban
imposed on him by Maduro’s supreme court, meaning he now risked detention or potential exile.
His calculation is that international pressure might prevent both, but there are no guarantees.
“All the scenarios left for the opposition are terrible scenarios,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst.
Colombian President Iván Duque arrived Sunday at the Simón Bolívar bridge — site of intense exchanges of tear gas and
rubber bullets on Saturday — with a convoy of white SUVs and armored vehicles from the Colombian armed forces.
Police said American officials were among the large delegation seen touring the bridge.
With tensions still high on the border, Colombian authorities on Sunday announced that Duque had ordered the closure of
his country’s three main bridge crossings to Venezuela in the North Santander region through Monday night. Aid trucks had
sought to cross there on Saturday before confrontations began between pro-government troops and operatives and the
The opposition, meanwhile, said one of its leaders — Freddy Superlano — had been poisoned with a drug called
“burundanga” in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta and remained hospitalized. Superlano’s assistant had died of the
same poison. The opposition called for an investigation into the poisonings, while making no claims on who the culprits
The bloodiest clashes took place on the border with Brazil, where pro-government paramilitary groups killed four people
and injured 34 by gunfire, according to nonprofit legal group Foro Penal, opposition leaders, and witnesses at the hospital
that received the victims in Santa Elena de Uairen. Patients and their families panicked as buses and motorbikes with armed
men swarmed outside the hospital.
“Too many people shot by bullets kept coming in. It’s terrifying,” said Yolderi Garcia, a 62-year-old volunteer at the
Hospital Rosario Vera Surita. “It’s a horrible day, we are very worried because this is a small town.”
George Bello, spokesman for the mayor of the Gran Sabana district on the Brazilian border, said the situation Sunday
morning remained tense, with pro-government militias known as colectivos ruling the streets.
“I’m in hiding,” Bello said, adding that his team believed the mayor, Emilio Gonzales, was at risk of being kidnapped.
On Sunday, the situation at the border between Venezuela and Colombia also remained tense. In the border town of Ureña,
Colombian police said tear gas volleys were fired Sunday inside Venezuela to disperse small protests. Anti-Maduro
protesters were once again gathering on the Colombian side of the border, and vowing to continue the running battles they
engaged in Saturday with Maduro’s military and irregular forces.
On the Colombia side, hundreds of police arrived early Sunday in dozens of buses and trucks to the Simón Bolívar bridge.
A small crowd began growing at the edge of the bridge in the morning, but Colombian authorities later dispersed them.
Hector Abreu, 23, an opposition member and former mechanic from Caracas, waited outside the bridge and said he
planned to protest and challenge Venezuelan guards as he had on Saturday.
“We want a free Venezuela so that’s why we’ll continue,” he said.
Rachelle Krygier and Mariana Zuñiga in San Cristobal, Dylan Baddour in Cúcuta, Colombia and Carol Morello in
Washington contributed to this report.