Here's how the world picks sides in the Venezuela crisis

Worryingly, these are not just two random collections of countries, but two blocs with a lot of pre-existing enmity.

  • The U.S. has urged the world to 'pick sides' in Venezuela's constitutional crisis.
  • This map shows which countries continue to support Maduro, and which ones have thrown their weight behind Guaidó.
  • Could this be the first intimation of a new Cold War – or worse?

Since last Wednesday, Venezuela has two presidents. The world map above shows which countries (in red) support Nicolas Maduro, whose re-election last May many observers say was rigged; and which ones (in dark blue) support Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who declared himself 'interim president' last week.

There's something more going on with that map, however – something ominous about the two camps that have coalesced on it. These are not just two random groups of countries. These are two camps, with plenty of grievance and enmity between them. Some of the borders between both blocs are even active frontlines. Could this be the outline of a new Cold War, or if cooler heads don't prevail, a hot one perhaps?

With neighbors like these...

Image: Wikipedia

Most of Venezuela's neighbors have recognized the presidency of Guaidó, but Maduro can count on the continued support of Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, and a few others.

All that for Venezuela's sake? If that sounds ludicrous, think back to 1914. Few people back then could find Serbia on a world map, let alone understand what its beef with Austria-Hungary was about. How quickly that escalated into the First World War.

Although the cause might have been obscure, the war itself was not a surprise. Decades-old rivalry between the great powers of that time had escalated into deepening enmity. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand on June 26 of that year set in motion a complex array of alliances and counter-alliances. Just over a month later, on August 4, German armies plowed into Belgium.

Of course, history never repeats itself exactly. But there are patterns. Like the Balkan conflict in 1914, Venezuela's constitutional crisis is a local power struggle with a global dimension. So what do both sides look like?

Europe is on the fence, for now

Image: Wikipedia

Europe's compromise position: Recognize the authority of the National Assembly, but not yet the legitimacy of Guaidó's presidency. In darker blue: the handful of countries already agreeing with the U.S. position.

Maduro is anti-U.S. and the U.S. is anti-Maduro. Following the 'enemy of my enemy' principle, the U.S. recognized Guaidó almost immediately after his self-proclamation, followed by most other countries in the Americas. Notable exception: Mexico, which initially took Maduro's side, but has since moved into the neutral camp.

The main international allies of Venezuela are Cuba and Russia, which remained loyal to Maduro's presidency; but he also got official support from other countries friendly to his regime: China, Iran, Turkey and South Africa, to name the most important ones. Regionally, Maduro can also count on the support of Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Suriname.

Europe is colored light blue: The UK, Spain, Germany, France and most other EU members (plus a few other countries, including Ukraine, Norway and, further afield, Japan) have declared a compromise position. They support the National Assembly (run by the opposition and presided by Guaidó) but not yet the latter's presidency. The UK, Spain, Germany and others have called on Maduro to call fresh elections. If he doesn't do so within eight days, they will recognize Guaidó.

The Pro-Maduro Club

Image: Wikipedia

From Brest-Litovsk all the way to the Taiwan Strait, this is Maduro country.

In a number of cases, the Maduro/Guaidó split aligns with pre-existing local enmities: Palestine and Israel, Georgia and Russia, China and Taiwan – if one likes Maduro, the other likes Guaidó. Choices can also be markers of allegiance. The darkest blues in Europe (i.e. Georgia, Kosovo, Albania) are also arguably America's most loyal allies in the region. Syria's declaration for Maduro will have something to do with its alliance with Russia. Turkey, traditionally a U.S. ally, is siding with the other camp.

With the backing of globally relevant allies, and that of most of Venezuela's military, Maduro is unlikely to agree to either the demands by the Europeans (for new elections) or the offer by Guaidó (of amnesty, if he leaves office peacefully).

Where does this go from here? On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an emergency session of the UN Security Council that it was "time for other countries to pick a side". One way to take the temperature of the crisis is to monitor this map on Wikimedia Commons, which is continuously being updated as countries do just that – pick sides.

Strange Maps #958

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

Essential financial life skills for 21st-century Americans

Having these financial life skills can help you navigate challenging economic environments.

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash
Personal Growth
  • Americans are swimming in increasingly higher amounts of debt, even the upper middle class.
  • For many, this burden can be alleviated by becoming familiar with some straightforward financial concepts.
  • Here's some essential financial life skills needed to ensure your economic wellbeing.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less

New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.