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Venezuela: An Empty Shell Named Juan Guaido

Venezuela's next problem, besides a crashed economy and an authoritarian regime, may be an opposition president incapable of running the country.

Jan Guaido in Caracas on Feb. 20
Jan Guaido in Caracas on Feb. 20
Sergio Ocampo Madrid


BOGOTÁ — Obviously, I want Maduro to fall. Obviously, I'm counting the minutes to the end of Venezuela's nightmare, so we may start to rebuild it after a 20-year experiment that has both destroyed the country and largely killed the dream that many of us in Colombia share: of a reasonable, modern Left coming to power. Indeed, Venezuela's Bolivarian movement has reversed the pendulum across the continent, favoring the resurgence of the most recalcitrant and corrupt conservatism.

Certainly, I am pained by the state of Venezuela. It is our other self as a nation, our continuity in the jungle, across the Andes and plains, and along the Caribbean. It is the other bank of the Orinoco and Arauca rivers to our "west bank," and a helpless reminder of the greater nation-state that could have been: a vast nation that already shares its joys and melancholies, sings and dances to the same music and has a similar, easygoing demeanor.

Yet in spite of this all, I am resolutely opposed to the solution touted as the last option for toppling the beastly dictator and heir to that megalomaniac charlatan, Hugo Chávez. The incidents that have followed since legislator Juan Guaidó decided to proclaim himself president — and I cannot imagine why — seem neither serious nor responsible, smacking instead of opportunism.

I am pained by the state of Venezuela.

This putative president is nothing like Leopoldo López, Henrique Capriles or María Corina Machado, those opposition veterans with 15 years of fighting, persecution and imprisonment. Guaidó, in contrast, emerged overnight. Yet he won the backing of the Americans, then neighboring countries like ours, and then 45 other states, including some of the most respectable in the world. Together they have staged a real pantomime, naming ambassadors without embassies or resources, and issuing decrees to the winds.

I observe Guaidó, analyze his speech, posture and vocabulary, and I simply cannot imagine him reviving the Venezuelan utopia, rebuilding a productive apparatus, restoring institutions in ruins or disarming thousands of militiamen fired up with the delusional promises of a glorious revolution for the 21st century. I cannot even seen him organizing an election within two months to ease a transition.

The events of recent days were immensely foolhardy and irresponsible. After selling a star-studded and well-intentioned concert, the ground was prepared for a "humanitarian caravan." Six hundred tons of food and medicines were taken to the Colombian border, 200 on Brazil's, and a bunch from Curaçao, but all in improvised fashion, without a distribution strategy or clear ideas on how to get it all inside Venezuela. It was naively, or deliberately, imagined that a vast human chain would shift them all in, box by box. Notably, neither the UN nor the Red Cross accepted this task as it seemed evident the plan had none of the three criteria of international law for such cases: impartiality, neutrality and independence.

Then a few shots heard and couple of flashes on a bridge provoked the forceful reaction of the Bolivarian police and sinister National Guard, who put an end to this "dream" of taking medicines to the forlorn in the various states of Barinas, Zulia, Mérida and beyond.

I simply cannot imagine Guaidó​ reviving the Venezuelan utopia.

It is an absolute scandal to expose ordinary folk who are both sick and hungry, just so you can then claim the tyrant would not let aid in for his people! Or worse, to use some stray bullet to "justify" subsequent armed intervention. There were 70 injuries by the end of the day though none were serious, and two native Venezuelans were killed in Kumaracapai along the Brazilian border. They do not count of course, just as they haven't in the last 500 years!

The Colombian president has found in this string of theatrical incidents the opportunity to shake off criticisms that he is a simpleton, superficial, inept at his job and a puppet. His image had been sagging for six months until the current crisis, when his approval ratings have suddenly swelled. Daily the broadcasters Blu Radio and RCN and the daily El Tiempo expound on his impressive leadership.

I do not know whether or not the dictator will have fallen by the time this article is published, given the reports of 70 or more soldiers (of junior ranks I think) shifting loyalties to Guaidó, the savior pulled out of a hat. If that happens, the young Venezuelan leader should be more afraid than Iván Duque, another upstart who unexpectedly won an election last year and found himself having to actually govern a real country.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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