A Cynic's Argument for Intervention in Venezuela
Nicolas Maduro, one of two presidents of Venezuela speaks to troops Jan 30th
I am a cynic about the Trump administration's motives in Venezuela. In fact, I am a life-long cynic regarding American foreign interference in general. I have seen the failed fruits of those endeavors too many times. But, the very real Venezuelan revolution currently engaged in an existential struggle against the brutal regime of Nicolas Maduro will not succeed without international pressure and considerable support. We have a moral obligation to provide that support in a compassionate and forceful manner to a people who have suffered greatly.
Despite the bellicose and erratic rhetoric of Mr. Trump as well as the equally disturbing histories of John Bolton and Elliot Abrams, who seem to have never encountered a regime-change they didn’t like, something must be done to help the millions of Venezuelans desperately struggling for their very survival. Maduro is a dictator in the classic sense. From ruthlessly expunging his political enemies to robbing the oil-wealth of Venezuela in order to bribe his military officials, his government is best described as a murderous kleptocracy.
What the people of Venezuelan people desperately need is coordinated action of the sort which brought South African Apartheid to its knees. The solution must be peaceful, coordinated by the international community and it must be executed to put maximum pressure on Maduro and minimum suffering on the Venezuelan people, who are the ones with their lives on the line.
Much like in South Africa in the 90’s, a protracted military struggle is not a possibility. Padraig O’Malley, a historian on the collapse of that equally immoral government writes “Once both sides came to realize that the one could not hold on to power through its repressive security policies and the other recognized that it could not seize power through an armed "liberation" struggle the options for both became more narrow, and more importantly, more crystallized”. It’s almost as if he were speaking of contemporary Venezuela.
15 months ago, I came to the border of Venezuela to cover the mass-exodus of 3.5 Venezuelans from their homeland.
And while I transcribed the stories of violence, of corruption, of widespread hunger, and government censorship, of forced disappearances and of political arrests, I began to realize that the scope of the oppression and suffering occurring within that blighted nation is far graver than anyone outside of South America talked about. We occasionally saw blips in the news about corrupt elections and or heard Venezuela mentioned by right-leaning economists as a Socialist boogey-man, but there was little real attention paid. Suffering isn’t sexy, as I’ve heard said from editors.
That all changed on January 23rd. With the Trump administrations recent actions, culminating in recognizing Mr. Juan Guiado as interim president of Venezuela, the story has catapulted into the international headlines. Since then a host of other countries have followed suit, with the last few countries of the European Union announcing support for Mr. Guiado Monday. And as the international debate rages, I find myself talking with Venezuelans who have hope for the first time in their lives that the tyrannical government of Maduro might actually fall.
This revolution is not a “US backed coup” as Maduro would have you believe. It is a revolution of the Venezuelan people against a government that has violently stamped them into the ground for years in a cynical effort to enrich themselves. It is a Venezuelan revolution in much more than just name.
When those hundreds of thousands took to the streets, I saw a starving population that knew very well the bloody history of Maduro’s government taking an incredibly brave stand. They put their lives at risk in yet another attempt to demonstrate their disapproval in a manner that Maduro would be unable to censor.
And while Mr Guaido had clearly orchestrated the response with neighboring South American countries and the US, this would have been impossible to achieve without the raw demonstration of power from the Venezuelans in the streets, who are the true source of power in Venezuela.
Venezuela faces a multitude of complex problems that need to be resolved in order for new government to be successful. The Venezuelan military is integral to propping up Maduro. Is it possible to convince them to form a new government that isn’t simply another sieve for Venezuelan oil-wealth into the hands of the elite?
And is it possible to create the conditions for a transition of power that doesn’t simply devolve into a civil war? Or a drawn-out guerilla war against hostile occupiers, as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan? It is far too easy to imagine these nightmare scenarios. We must avoid them at all costs. But they can be avoided by refusing military commitments that would only weaken our position in the long term.
The Venezuelan and Colombian opponents of intervention like to sarcastically joke that “Oh, surely the gringos are only interested in the arepas.” They assume, quite rightfully, that the Trump administration has motives beyond simply promoting democracy. As we have seen, Trump has proven willing more than once to turn a blind eye to the horrific actions of regimes he finds convenient allies.
But the international community has a chance to demonstrate that it can act together in a way that allows the Venezuelan people to both achieve democracy and to perhaps benefit from their country’s vast oil wealth, for the first time ever. Or we could validate the cynics the world-over and display the self-interested imperialism that so many have grown tired of.
The choice rests in our hands. I for one believe that the Venezuelan people deserve the latter after generations of suffering. And I believe if we do it carefully, we can surprise even the cynics such as myself.