Nicolás Maduro’s days as president of Venezuela appear to be numbered. The country is hurtling towards rock bottom, with the International Monetary Fund projecting its inflation rate could reach an almost unreal 10,000,000 percent in 2019. A humanitarian crisis has seen over 1.6 million flee the nation, which is undergoing an extreme supply crisis.

Mr. Maduro was sworn in for a second term last week, won by way of elections held last May. However, a number of anti-democratic maneuvers and suspicions of fraud have led Brazil to declare that it does not recognize the legitimacy of the government in its neighbor to the north.

Brazil is not alone in doing so, either. Thirteen of the 14 members of the Lima Group—the Latin American multilateral body established in 2017 to negotiate an end to the Venezuelan crisis—also signed a declaration stating they do not recognize Mr. Maduro’s new term. Only Mexico, which claimed it wanted to maintain relations with the country in order to help with its humanitarian crisis, did not sign. The European Union and the U.S. have also refused to acknowledge Mr. Maduro as president.

This week, Argentinian president Mauricio Macri came to Brazil in what was the first official visit of a head of state of the Jair Bolsonaro government. On Wednesday, the two gave a joint speech denouncing the “illegitimate” Maduro administration. “The international community has already realized that Mr. Maduro is a dictator who seeks to perpetuate his power with fictitious elections,” declared Mr. Macri.

The following day, Brazilian Chancellor Ernesto Araújo hosted an 11-hour meeting with members of the Venezuelan opposition and representatives of the Lima Group and the United States. The purpose of the engagement was to discuss ways to put pressure on the Venezuelan leader. According to public news network Agência Brasil, those in attendance on Thursday debated “alternatives for the political and economic crisis” and the next steps for the Lima Group, potentially moving towards ousting Mr. Maduro.

venezuela opposition crisis

Mr. Araújo, Miguel Ángel Martín, Pres. Bolsonaro, and Gustavo Cinose

In the wake of the meeting, Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Minister released a statement declaring that the Nicolás Maduro government was a “mechanism of organized corruption, based on generalized corruption, drug trafficking, and terrorism.” Jair Bolsonaro himself stated that Brazil will do “everything in its power to reestablish order, democracy, and liberty in Venezuela.”

The plan of the Venezuelan opposition

Among those present at Thursday’s meeting were former Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and Julio Borges, the former president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, the institution which the Lima Group calls the “only legitimate democratically elected power” in the country and which dubbed Nicolás Maduro a “usurper of the presidency” on Tuesday.

Mr. Maduro held the National Assembly—predominantly made up of his political adversaries—in contempt and stripped it of its powers. Assembly president Juan Guaidó declared himself as the acting president of Venezuela last week, and is set to be the name that conspiring foreign powers will rally around and make the leader of a “transitional government,” until new elections can be held.

Military intervention in Venezuela, either from foreign countries or Venezuela’s own military, is highly unlikely. The more probable scenario is an increase of sanctions on the Maduro government, intended to worsen the economic situation in the country and force the military to leave the president’s side.

Brazil between a rock and a hard place

By hosting the meeting with Venezuelan opposition this week, Brazil is setting out its stall in its efforts to oust Mr. Maduro, assuming a central role in these negotiations. However, Brazil’s place in the Venezuelan imbroglio is delicate.

While Jair Bolsonaro has all but declared Nicolás Maduro to be an enemy of his government, he does have to tread carefully over the coming months. Besides the Brazilian Constitution establishing that the country’s foreign policy must be guided by the principle of non-intervention, Venezuela and Brazil share a border, so heightened tensions between the countries are in nobody’s interests. Furthermore, the northern Brazilian state of Roraima receives around 70 percent of its energy from Venezuela, being the only state not connected to the national grid. The crisis in the neighboring country has already led to blackouts in Roraima, which would surely increase were Brazil to confront Venezuela.

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PowerJan 18, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.