New Delhi: Is Venezuela the new Cuba for the United States? It depends on how president Donald Trump handles the political crisis in the poor, oil-rich country.

As of now, Trump has resisted militarily intervening against the discredited, socialist government of Nicolas Maduro which receives support from other similar regimes in Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua in the neighbourhood. Cold War II shadows are, however, cast by another set of powerful state actors comprising Russia, China, Turkey and Iran.

China, conceivably, has invested the most -- some $60 billion -- in Venezuela’s oil industry and in Maduro’s corrupt administration. Venezuela is in no position to repay the debt and it is similar to China leading poor countries in Asia and Africa to indebtedness with vastly padded Belt and Road projects. China will have no qualms in taking over Venezuelan oil assets in case Venezuela defaults in repayments. That’s an example of Chinese colonialism in Latin America.

China is not in it alone. Russia has also invested billions in the Venezuelan oil industry and in Maduro’s regime. Some weeks ago, there was speculation that the regime had flown gold out to Russia equivalent to Russian investments in the country. More provably, Russia has landed military advisers in Venezuela to save the regime. It is not clear if they will join the fight with the regime against America should it intervene.

Western and NATO Europe with the exception of Turkey are backing Juan Guaido who has used a constitutional provision to declare himself acting Venezuelan president which Maduro and allied regimes naturally reject. All manner of governance has collapsed in Venezuela which is further hit by hyperinflation, food shortages, endless outages, etc. Desperate refugees and dissidents are pouring into neighbouring Colombia which has become a hotbed of activities directed at the overthrow of the Maduro regime.

All eyes are on the White House for Trump’s green-light for armed intervention but he is in no hurry to authorize one nor even seems predisposed to such a course. Venezuela is not yet Cuba of October 1962 because no nuclear missiles are pointing at the United States. Unlike Fidel Castro who was on the ascendant during the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Maduro is thoroughly embattled, vastly unpopular, and may not survive long in power.

Donald Trump probably calculates that Maduro can be deposed through a coup d’etat or via an externally-guided and -funded peoples’ movement against the regime. The calculation is not without logic. An internal revolt against Nicholas Maduro, military or non-military, could lead to bloodshed, but it would be much less than the toll caused by a US invasion. The prospect of an armed confrontation between US and Russian forces, however remote, cannot be very appealing to the White House with only months to go before the election season kicks in.

But if the Russians and the Chinese dig in assured that the United States won’t intervene, it may start to look bad for Donald Trump if his Democratic Party rival in the presidential election plays it up. While armed intervention could be planned and scheduled, coup d’états are tricky business and a general rising even more. They may take months or years or never take place. Some of the most biting US sanctions stand enforced against Venezuela. In the long run, they would make impact. But Venezuela is not a state far away from the US mainland. It is in the Western Hemisphere and in America’s sphere of interest like Cuba, and America’s messy Cuba policy cannot be replicated with Venezuela, which is oil-rich as well.

It is possible to argue that Russia is avenging Cuba in Venezuela but it is likely to be a later development. Russia’s Venezuela attraction was essentially oil valued cheap because Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, craved for Russian protection against the United States. The geopolitical advantage of a contest of wills in the Americas perhaps was a secondary attraction.

Possibly the Chinese were even more fevered about Venezuela. Its oil assets came cheap and Beijing couldn’t miss the opportunity to secrete itself into the heart of the American sphere. Russia may not stand in the way of such a denouement as the overthrow of Nicholas Maduro but China would stick with him to the last. Too much Chinese money is locked up in Venezuela. The presence of Russia could even embolden China and there is the support of Turkey, Iran, Cuba, etc, besides.

With each passing day, the stakes grow for the United States in Venezuela. The million dollar question is: How long can the United States avoid intervening if the Venezuela threat mounts? What if events in Venezuela resurrect the Domino Theory of the 1950s and put added pressure on the White House? Donald Trump has angered allies and partners in the Western world. It is perhaps time to make amends.

Editor’s Note: 1. Press reports say Intelligence Bureau leads have helped the income tax department with election-related cash hauls. Only opposition parties are being raided. Does it mean the Bharatiya Janata Party is squeaky clean? Delhi’s fixers have a different tale to tell. And what’s the basis of IB leads? Unauthorized surveillance of political personalities and illegal telephone tapping?

2. Rahul Gandhi over-interpreted the Supreme Court ruling on “stolen” documents pertaining to the Rafale scandal. But the role of injured innocent sits oddly with Narendra Modi. The plain fact is the Rafale deal stinks. Only a parliamentary inquiry can unearth the full scope and complexities of the scam.