A senior US administration official has revealed that President Donald Trump was entertaining the possibility of invading Venezuela in late 2017. According to the Associated Press, Trump stunned his aides at an August 10th meeting when he asked them about taking military action against Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela. Those present took turns explaining that a US invasion could backfire and generate Latin American sympathy for the presently isolated Maduro. The next day, Trump publicly announced that he was considering a “military option” against Maduro. Multiple sources confirm that Trump later discussed the matter with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and then again in September with Santos and three other Latin American leaders. Each leader made it clear that they opposed any military action in Venezuela.
Latin American leaders and organisations have been quick to voice their opposition to any invasion of Venezuela. The South American trade bloc Mercosur responded to the news by stating that “the only acceptable instruments for the promotion of democracy are dialogue and diplomacy” while President Santos reiterated that a US invasion would have zero support in Latin America. Upon hearing the leaks on Wednesday, Maduro called on the Venezuelan military to remain vigilant against the “criminal and supremacist vision” of the US government. He further stated that “a military intervention on the part of the US empire will never be a solution to Venezuela’s problems.”
A US invasion of Venezuela would be an act of aggression committed by a nation that is already officially fighting wars in seven different countries. Over the past four decades the US government has undertaken military actions with little regard for international law, seemingly operating under the assumption that “might makes right.” When he brought up military action against Venezuela, Trump pointed to the invasions of Panama and Granada in the 1980s as examples to emulate. Both invasions were condemned by the United Nations General Assembly at the time as flagrant violations of international law. Panama experienced collateral damage, with 20,000 civilians displaced because of US bombings and urban fighting.
Proposed US military aggression only serves to reinforce Maduro’s narrative that emphasises the threat of external forces towards the Venezuelan government and downplays any internal shortcomings. The more the White House interferes in Venezuela, the easier it is for Maduro to generate sympathy and support. It is likely that US sanctions and support for opposition has only destabilised and impoverished the country further, while granting Maduro the opportunity to remove political rivals.
Alarmingly, Trump has taken his foreign policy team in a more hawkish direction recently. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster were two advisors who talked Trump away from war with Venezuela back in August 2017. Both men were replaced in March 2018, by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo respectively. Bolton, an outspoken war hawk, has appeared on Fox Business encouraging the US government to “covertly or overtly” assist the Venezuelan opposition, with the objective of overturning the Maduro government. Pompeo, in his first Organisation of American States address, called for the ouster of Venezuela and a “return to democracy.” Meanwhile UN Ambassador Nikki Haley agreed that it is “time for Maduro to go.” While the White House has not commented on the recent leaks, a National Security Council spokesman has reiterated that the US will continue to consider all options regarding Venezuela.
By threatening military action against Venezuela and seeking to undermine its government, the United States plays into Maduro’s hands. Due to their “imperialist” reputation in the region, the US should avoid forcing regime change, and rely instead on regional Latin American powers to pressure and guide Venezuela towards democracy.
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