After a weekend of high drama but few results at Venezuela's border, the United States and other nations appear resigned to the fact that forcing President Nicolas Maduro from power will be neither quick nor easy.
US Vice-President Mike Pence, addressing a group of Latin American leaders in Bogota, Colombia, yesterday, repeated the Trump Administration's assurance that "all options" are on the table, but he offered up only minor new US sanctions.
In his address to the Lima Group, the 14-nation diplomatic consortium supporting Maduro's replacement with opposition leader Juan Guaido, Pence gave no indication that the US was ready to use force.
Despite previously indicating that he would announce "clear actions" in response to violent clashes at the border at the weekend, Pence reiterated an amnesty offer for the Venezuelan military, emphasised continued "economic and diplomatic" measures against Maduro and urged other nations to exert more pressure.
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The group agreed on a declaration calling for a transition to democracy "peacefully, by the Venezuelans themselves ... supported by political and diplomatic means, without the use of force". The only participants at the gathering who seemed to favour a more muscular approach were Guaido and the opposition he leads. On Monday, he tweeted that he would pose a formal question to international backers, asking that all options be "open to achieve the liberation of this country". Senior opposition politician Julio Borges was more direct, tweeting that the opposition "will urge for an escalation of diplomatic pressure and the use of force against the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro".
Pence acknowledged to reporters yesterday that Guaido sought assurances that the US could use force if necessary. "I reassured him" that force remains an option, Pence said, "but we hope for better, we hope for a peaceful transition".
The military option has not disappeared, said one senior Latin American official who attended the meeting. "It's the elephant in the room," the official said. "But nobody wants to see it, and nobody wants to talk about it." Progress has been made, the official said. "But this is just starting. The economic pressure, the diplomatic pressure is just starting," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The opposition appears to have become a victim of its own hype over the weekend's events. It claimed that a humanitarian "D-Day" — with aid-laden trucks and thousands of cheering supporters coming face to face with Venezuelan security forces across the Colombian border — would burst the dams of Venezuelan military frustration and bring about a massive rupture between the armed forces and Maduro.
Instead, about 160 rank-and-file troops abandoned their posts — symbolically significant, but nowhere near the flood of support the opposition needed. At the same time, minimal amounts of aid got through. As many as eight people were killed, according to the opposition, and hundreds were injured.
"They started talking about the inevitability of winning, that humanitarian aid can't be stopped," said David Smilde, a fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America.
"Yes, those are great to mobilise people. But the problem is being caught flat-footed. They've got to figure out a new plan to manage expectations."