After U.S. President Donald Trump told a news conference on Friday that a military option in Venezuela was “certainly something we could pursue,” his own Vice President, Mike Pence, backpedalled immediately, claiming, “The president also remains confident that working with all of our allies across Latin America we can achieve a peaceable solution.” Trump’s bellicose language was damaging enough; acting on it would be disastrous.
One Venezuela analyst tweeted in response: “And just like that, Christmas came early for the strongman in Caracas.” Even if the U.S. has avoided military intervention in Latin America for the past twenty years, its history of propping up dictators hangs over the region. An angry delegate in the Caracas assembly received a standing ovation when he shouted, “If you think of invading us we’ll make [the] Vietnam [war] look small.” In short, Trump’s statement played directly into President Nicolas Maduro’s hands.
Having left the Organization of American States (OAS) in February, Venezuela is isolated. What’s more, attempts by the nation’s well-meaning neighbours to help are being hindered by friends of former president Hugo Chávez, bought-off with cheap oil in the past. Last Tuesday, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador pledged support for Maduro and attacked US sanctions as “imperialist interference.” The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have backed Maduro without apology. Indeed the group’s leader, known as Timochenko, has said that while the Venezuelan government has made mistakes, it is the forces of “neoliberalism” that seek to destabilise the “democratic” government.
This leaves responsibility for the fate of Venezuela in the hands of its larger neighbours in the region, namely Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, all of whom have signed a joint statement declaring they will not recognise any legislation passed by the constituent assembly and that “the only acceptable tools for the promotion of democracy are dialogue and diplomacy.” Moves like this will help the OAS negotiate to ensure the respect of democratic institutions, the release of political prisoners, the supply of desperately needed humanitarian systems, and free elections.
Once these short-term goals have been achieved, Venezuela needs two things. First: diversification of its economy. Even Noam Chomsky laments the poor economic management of former President Hugo Chávez, who relied mainly on the rising price of oil, wasting his chance to develop agriculture and other industries. Chávez also failed to address the structural causes of poverty. Now, experts forecast that the global oil price would have to rise about $15 to $70 a barrel for the government’s financial fortunes to improve perceptibly. The OAS must promote alternative energy sources in the Caribbean and Central America as a priority.
Second, the power of the Venezuelan military needs to be pared back. Last year, Maduro created 195 generals in a single day; the country now has more than 2,000 and the most top-heavy army in the world. Their status gives them access to the official exchange rate (ten bolivars to the US dollar); the black market rate is 19,000 to the dollar. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people are starving and protesting.
International intervention is imperative, however, it should not be spearheaded by the United States and certainly not be military. A long-term solution must be built on cooperation between OAS nations to reestablish democracy in Venezuela, for the situation is beyond a crisis-it is now a failed state.
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