No military intervention in Venezuela
Its army holds the key for whether Nicolás Maduro can be compelled to loosen his iron grip on Venezuela, a nation that was once among the wealthiest in Latin America but now suffers from runaway inflation and an oppressive government that kills its own and denies them the international aid they desperately need amid deprivation and lack of medicine.
But their army, not ours.
That said, the U.S. response to this crisis, in its most meaningful form, has been constructive, even if there have been excesses that have the potential for achieving the opposite of what needs to happen.
On the constructive front, the U.S. has joined with other nations to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela. Maduro’s election last year was a sham. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the nation’s critical oil sector, frozen assets and imposed travel bans that target top government officials.
Yes, denying resources to a regime can often hurt the general populace. But more sanctions, including against non-Venezuelan entities doing business with the regime, still should be on the table. And efforts to get international aid into the country should continue as a way to mitigate this.
But on the unhelpful front: tough talk that hints at U.S. military intervention. There is likely no such military solution — and it is rejected outright by other countries that have joined the U.S. in opposing the Maduro government. This unity would dissipate in a heartbeat. U.S intervention also would likely solidify internal support for Maduro. He is already feeding a coup narrative because that suits this purpose.
The delivery of U.S. aid also has this effect, but we see few alternatives given the suffering of the Venezuelan people. The hope was that the people would turn more broadly than it has already on a government that was denying it needed aid and give Guaidó a boost. That hasn’t visibly happened. Maduro has characterized the aid also as part of a yanqui plot.
Countries in the hemisphere must nonetheless continue to try to get such aid into the country — blocked for now by the Venezuela army. And it must continue promising amnesty for the Venezuelan military. Without that, no one will turn on Maduro for fear of prosecution.
Also unhelpful is labeling Venezuela as part of a an evil “troika” with Cuba and Nicaragua. This gives an ideological cast to our objections to Maduro when the only consideration here should be humanitarian. And it doesn’t help that President Donald Trump’s words indicate he can’t tell the difference between Maduro’s Bolivarian-style socialism and any proposal by any Democratic candidate for president. It has a name: redbaiting.
Though the administration’s handling of the Venezuela crisis has been on the whole level headed — those exceptions above notwithstanding — our ability to widen international support for this strategy has apparently become a casualty of the president’s foreign affairs policies generally. Vice President Mike Pence’s call for more European support — at a conference in Munich recently — got an underwhelming response owing to distrust of a president who has made conflict with the European Union part of a grand strategy.
Never is a long time, and it is an absolute we concede that conditions on the ground can upend. And, yet, we view U.S. military intervention as virtually an absolute when it comes to Venezuela. A long history of U.S. interventions in Latin America — militarily and more covert to install favored, yet corrupt, regimes — argues against it. This has left a bitter taste.
The U.S. should drop the bluster that threatens military intervention. The only consideration here should be humanitarian, not regime change for ideological purposes.