There are some images that make an impression, like that of a young street vendor in a Caracas slum who stopped to retrieve a meager garlic clove that fell from his basket during a frantic race as he he fled the police last month.
In a starving Venezuela, police raids meant to disperse illegal street vendors give rhythm to the daily life of a people who buckle under the weight of hopes disillusioned by the Chavism embodied by Nicolas Maduro, a president whose legitimacy is contested.
Donald Trump, an American president suffering from a lack of empathy for his fellow citizens, cannot imagine what the Venezuelan people are experiencing. On the other hand, his decision to officially recognize Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader, as the new president of the Latin American country, made a big difference for the thousands of Venezuelans who descended into the streets on Wednesday.
Caught up in his own government’s shutdown in Washington, the American president, who thrives on conflict, found an ideal adversary in Nicolas Maduro. The Chavist communism – or what is left of it – embodied by the Venezuelan president is an ideology that Republicans in the United States have fought against for years. Last fall, incidentally, Trump branded his Democratic opposition as “radical socialists” and accused them of wanting to adopt the Venezuelan model in the United States.
Despite having the army’s support, Maduro is a weakened president, abandoned by his neighbors and lacking a strong connection to the working class Venezuelans who respected Hugo Chavez, his late predecessor. Venezuelan oil production is plummeting and inflation is uncontrollable.
Trump’s decision to weigh in on the Venezuelan crisis carries a risk of escalation if Maduro’s allies – Russia and China – decide to support him. But for the Venezuelan opposition, Trump is, first and foremost, a source of hope.