Venezuela is becoming a litmus test for the capability of the West to successfully carry out regime change without staging a full on military intervention.
President Trump is not that keen to commit massive amounts of troops to stage a military intervention like they did in Iraq, but is bent on pursuing regime change through other means.
For those who think that Juan Guaido is the ultimate democrat who is waiting in the wings to free Venezuelans from the shackles of the Bolivarian revolution, they should think again.
Guaido has actually been groomed to take power in Venezuela for over a decade now by the hawks in the US political system.
Guaido studied in 2007 at George Washington University, graduating as a neo-liberal economist.
Three years later in November 2010, Guaido attended a secret training course in Mexico on how to overthrow President Hugo Chavez. The training was provided by Otpor, which became a Serbian model of resistance which managed to successfully overthrow Slobodan Milosevic.
The Otpor model (Otpor meaning resistance) has been used to train opposition in many countries, particularly in eastern Europe to overthrow incumbent governments in the various coloured revolutions.
Guaido was not the first Venezuelan to be trained in Otpor tactics, as five student leaders from Venezuela had already been taken to Belgrade in 2005 to be trained by the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action (CANVAS).
This was funded by the US NGO, the National Endowment for Democracy, which is known to promote regime change efforts in various countries.
CANVAS has become a training institute for exporting revolution, and models like Otpor are said to also receive funds from the USAID and CIA.
Guaido proceeded to join a far-right group in Venezuela which launched destabilisation campaigns that included street violence. He also became a mid-level figure in the national assembly, working his way up to becoming an alternative Deputy after nine years.
In 2014, Guaido put much of what he had learned in his training to good use, supporting attempts to overthrow Chavez through violent street demonstrations using barricades known as Guarimbas.
In 2017 his group were allegedly involved in the destruction of public infrastructure and the murder of government supporters.
By December 2018 Guaido travelled to the US, Colombia and Brazil to coordinate plans for mass demonstrations to take place outside Maduro’s presidential inauguration in January this year.
It was a perfectly choreographed plan, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with Guaido on January 10, and then publicly backing him to take over as the self-declared President of Venezuela.
According to various news reports, before January this year only one in five Venezuelans had even heard of Guaido, who is 35 years old.
But that hasn’t stopped the US media from touting him as the answer to Venezuela’s problems.
As untested as he is, the New York Times has called him a “credible leader,” Bloomberg has said he will “restore democracy,” and the Wall Street Journal has hailed him as a “democratic leader.”
The fight for the soul Venezuela has turned into a media war, which for the most part has been won by the Western media which uncritically accept the official narrative touted by their conservative administrations.
That narrative is one articulated most loudly by Trump, who has called Venezuela a key axis in the “Troika of Tyranny,” which includes in his mind Cuba and Nicaragua.
It is clear who the US will go for next if they succeed in toppling the government in Venezuela and installing an American puppet.
To date, US efforts to take out Maduro covertly have failed. There was Operation Constitution which attempted to capture him at the Presidential palace, Operation Armageddon which attempted to assassinate him at a military parade, and a third attempt to assassinate him using a drone.
The more recent strategy is to try to force through a massive consignment of humanitarian aid which Maduro has so far blocked, and it could possibly set up the pretext for military intervention on a “humanitarian basis.”
It has been reported that the US may be considering sending 5,000 troops to neighbouring Colombia. Even this week when Trump was asked if he would send troops to Colombia, his response was “you’ll see.”
But if the US thinks a military intervention will be a walk-over they are likely underestimating the determination of the Venezuelan military to fight for the defence and sovereignty of their country.
The balance of forces in the military does not support regime change or the opposition.
The consequences of a US military option could lead to significant bloodshed, which is why South Africa is using every lever it has at the UN Security Council to argue for a political solution and dialogue.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor