After a long period of stasis, the situation in Venezuela is moving towards its denouement. The next few months will be dangerous for the country and, despite the market’s apparent indifference to what is happening, could produce even more volatility in international oil prices. The recognition by the US, Canada, the UK and others of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader marks the beginning of the end for the 20-year rule of the Bolivarian revolutionary movement under Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.
So far the oil market has shrugged off the issue, with the Brent crude oil price barely moving over the last week. The market has become so accustomed to Venezuela’s problems that further internal turmoil in the country has come to seem irrelevant. That complacency may be misplaced. With food shortages and soaring inflation, Venezuela needs a change of government, but the transfer of power to Mr Guaidó will not come easily. President Maduro retains the support of army leaders.
The longstanding popular hostility to the US will no doubt be whipped up. And American sanctions on Venezuelan exports are unlikely to have any serious effect. Oil is easily traded and there is no shortage of buyers ready to purchase whatever Venezuela can produce — provided the discounts are deep enough. Mr Guaidó and his colleagues in the National Assembly have the legitimacy that comes with having been elected, but they may not have the forces required to secure power.
It is hard to imagine the US or anyone else sending in troops, and even harder to see foreign intervention of any sort succeeding in a country still soaked in nationalism.