APRIL 30TH DAWNED Promisingly in Venezuela. Juan Guaidó, recognized as the interim president of the country by many democracies and millions of Venezuelans, appeared outside an air force base in Caracas flanked by national guards to declare that the end of the dictatorship was imminent. At his side was an opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who had somehow been released from house arrest. His presence, and that of the guards, suggested that Venezuelan security forces were finally ready to withdraw their support for Nicolás Maduro, who has ruled his country in a catastrophic and brutal manner for the past six years.
Thus began two days of rumors, intrigue and violence (see article). As The Economist I went to press, the regime was still in charge and the generals proclaimed their loyalty. Mr. Maduro had appeared on television to declare that the "golpistas' adventure" had failed. However, this week's events reveal that his dominance of power is weaker than he claims. Mr. Guaidó, the United States, who supports him, and the commanders of the Venezuelan security apparatus must work together to put an end to it.
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That good could have been the plan. John Bolton, US national security adviser, said on April 30 that senior regime officials, including the defense minister and the commander of the presidential guard, had agreed to get rid of Mr. Maduro and transfer power to Mr. Guaidó. Mike Pompeo, secretary of state of the United States, later insisted that Maduro was worried enough for a plane to wait for him to take him to Havana, but was dissuaded by his Russian allies.
How true these affirmations are and what went wrong is uncertain. A letter on social media attributed to the general in charge of Venezuela's intelligence service, who abruptly abandoned his job, gave some support to Mr. Bolton's statement by saying that people close to Mr. Maduro were negotiating their backs Some newspaper reports say that the plan was to dismiss him on May 2, but that Mr. Guaidó had acted earlier, perhaps because Maduro had learned of the plan. The conspirators went cold.
The false start, if that is what it was, shows the way forward. Both Mr. Guaidó and the Donald Trump government should induce the main commanders to change sides by making it clear that there is a role for them in a democratic Venezuela. The army abandoned power in 1958 and helped give way to civil government. Today's opposition and the soldiers could cooperate in a similar way. Although Mr. Maduro and his closest associates must go, Mr. Guaidó should welcome the least contaminated leaders of the chavista regime in a transitional government, which would alleviate the humanitarian crisis while preparing for free elections. That could still take many months.
The Trump administration has grouped Venezuela with Cuba and Nicaragua in a "troika of tyranny." He seems as eager to evict the 60-year-old communist regime from Cuba as to get rid of Mr. Maduro. To that end, it recently stepped up the US embargo on the island, including by allowing US citizens to sue European and Canadian companies doing business with stolen Cuban assets after the revolution.
The American disdain for the Cuban regime is justified. His hundreds of spies in Venezuela help keep Mr. Maduro in power. But the attacks on Cuba will reinforce this link precisely when the United States should try to differentiate it. The lawsuits against European firms will frustrate a concerted diplomatic action against Venezuela. In the case of removing Mr. Maduro, the United States should put aside, for the time being, its dispute with Cuba.
The crucial choice falls on the commanders of the Venezuelan army. The bad government of Maduro offers them no future. It has crushed the economy, has starved people, strangled democracy and forced more than 3 million Venezuelans into exile. The shortage is bound to worsen with the new US oil sanctions this year. Generals must begin to act as patriots. They need to destroy the regime, before the regime destroys their country.