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Has The Situation In Venezuela Reached A Turning Point?


To help us make sense of what we're seeing in Venezuela today, we're joined by Rebecca Bill Chavez. During the Obama administration, she served in the State Department, overseeing U.S. defense policy in Latin America. Thank you for joining us.

REBECCA BILL CHAVEZ: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Are we, in fact, witnessing a turning point in Venezuela?

BILL CHAVEZ: Unfortunately, I think it's too early to say whether or not this really is a turning point. There's a lot of chaos and uncertainty. I think Mariana made an excellent point about the key question of, how many militaries that - are actually turning, are actually switching sides? But the impression I have thus far is that it's not at the numbers that we'd like to see. The defections are still rather low.

CORNISH: What would be necessary? What kind of level of defection? And how - what would we look for to indicate that that's the case?

BILL CHAVEZ: So John Bolton, when he spoke earlier, he talked about the defense minister as being a key player here and, you know, urging Padrino Lopez to defect. However, Padrino Lopez has come forward today in tweets and on - and, you know, in the Venezuelan media, saying that - denouncing Guaido and Lopez and this uprising, so I don't think we're going to see it, unfortunately, at least not in the short term from Padrino Lopez. And I also believe that it's going to be really difficult to peel the higher ranks of the military away from Maduro because they are so linked to him. And their fates are so closely tied to him.

CORNISH: You mentioned John Bolton, the national security adviser. He spoke earlier today about Venezuela. Here's a bit of that.


JOHN BOLTON: We want, as our principal objective, the peaceful transfer of power. But I will say again, as the president has said from the outset - and that Nicolas Maduro and those supporting him, particularly those who are not Venezuelan, should know is all options are on the table.

CORNISH: All options are on the table. Should that include help from the U.S. military? What should we read in John Bolton underscoring that?

BILL CHAVEZ: Well, unfortunately, I think that's consistent with the saber rattling we've heard from Bolton before and from other members of the administration and even from Marco Rubio. This idea that U.S. military intervention in Venezuela is the solution is really problematic. Any sort of U.S. military engagement in the country would be much more difficult than many believe. It wouldn't be quick. It wouldn't be easy. It would require engagements with not only the military but also with armed civilians, the colectivos and really powerful non-state actors. And another consequence of U.S. military intervention would be that one of our most important tools has been international pressure via the Lima Group, the Organization of American States, even working with our European allies. And we would squander that partnership if we continue to threaten military intervention and even more so if we were to intervene militarily.

CORNISH: We've heard a number of people, Republicans like Marco Rubio of the Senate, condemning the use of the term coup, saying that this can't be an armed coup because the U.S. and others have recognized Guaido as the leader of Venezuela. What's your read on this debate?

BILL CHAVEZ: I think it's an important debate. And I actually would agree with the - with Rubio on this. I do not see it as a coup. I think the real coup took place when Maduro assumed the presidency for the second term after a rigged election because a coup implies that it's overturning the constitutional order. And that's not what this is doing.

CORNISH: Rebecca Bill Chavez served at the Defense Department during the Obama administration. She's now at the Inter-American Dialogue. Thank you for speaking with us.

BILL CHAVEZ: No, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.