"Pay the soldiers. The rest do not matter."
This was the deathbed counsel given to his sons by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in A.D. 211.
Nicolas Maduro must today appreciate the emperor's insight.
For the political survival of this former bus driver and union boss hangs now upon whether Venezuela's armed forces choose to stand by him or to desert him and support National Assembly leader Juan Guaido.
Wednesday, Guaido declared Maduro's election last May to a second six-year term to be a sham, and had himself inaugurated as acting president.
Thursday, the defense minister and army chief General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, with his top brass, dismissed the 35-year-old Guaido as a U.S. puppet, and pledged allegiance to Maduro.
Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the U.N. Security Council: "Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. … Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem."
By Friday, however, the world had already taken sides.
Russia and China stood by Maduro, as did NATO ally Turkey, with President Erdogan phoning his support. Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba and Bolivia were also with Maduro.
Backing Guaido are Venezuela's neighbors Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia, the U.S. and Canada, and the Organization of American States.
Britain, France, Germany and Spain have sent Maduro a diplomatic ultimatum: Agree in eight days to new elections or we back the 35-year-old Guaido, who, until this year, was an unknown.
All options are on the table, says President Donald Trump. But Russia called Guaido's action a "quasi-coup" and warned that intervention could result in "catastrophic consequences." Vladimir Putin also phoned Maduro with his support.
The stakes for all sides here are huge. Russia has contractors in Venezuela and has lent the regime billions. In a show of solidarity, Putin recently flew two strategic bombers to Venezuela.
China has loaned Venezuela tens of billions, with Caracas paying Beijing back in oil.
Cuba has sent military and intelligence officers to maintain internal security. Hugo Chavez had seen in Fidel Castro a father figure and modeled his new Venezuela on Castro's Cuba — with similar results.
Where hundreds of thousands fled Castro's revolution in the 1960s, three million Venezuelans have fled to Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia and other South American countries and the USA.
The economy is in a shambles. Though Venezuela has the largest oil reserves on earth, production is a fraction of what it once was. Cronyism and corruption are endemic. Inflation has destroyed the currency. There is poverty, malnutrition and shortages of every necessity of modern life.