Trump’s forceful approach is good for both Venezuela and the US
Last week, the Trump administration recognized Juan Guaido, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as the official leader of Venezuela.
The decision de-legitimizes the regime of Nicolas Maduro, which has clung desperately to power since 1998. Trump’s move headlined an international wave of diplomatic support for the Venezuelan opposition, and was followed this week with sanctions on Venezuelan oil. More significantly, Trump’s commitment to keeping “the military option” open has sustained speculation that the United States will send 5,000 troops to Colombia, Venezuela’s neighboring country. The Trump administration’s forceful approach is good for both the Venezuelan people and for the United States.
However, two criticisms of President Trump’s approach have dominated the news cycle. The first is that increased U.S. involvement could be detrimental to the Venezuelan people; the second, that involvement in the domestic policies of foreign countries is generally detrimental to U.S. interests. It is worth exploring and responding to these arguments in order to clarify the strong case for intervention.
Regarding the first claim, the truth is that anything which the US does to expedite the exit of Nicolas Maduro’s regime, even through the use of military force, can be nothing but good for the Venezuelan people. Quite simply, the country is as bad as it can get. There was once a time when Venezuela was a truly great nation, but the ruling regime, which arose with Hugo Chavez and has been prolonged under Nicolas Maduro, has not left much to ruin.
Before Chavez, the Venezuelan economy was the richest in South America; Caracas was an international tourist location; and the oil-rich Caribbean nation was a place that immigrants flocked to with hopes for a better life. Today, the economy is experiencing 1,600,000% inflation; Caracas is the murder-capital of the world, with violent death rate higher than that of war-time Iraq; and 5 million Venezuelans have been forced to emigrate within the last few years—an migrant crisis on par with that of Syria, despite having received much less media attention.
Any effort to turn Venezuela around must begin with the removal of the Maduro regime. Unfortunately for Venezuelans, such removal is an impossibility. Maduro is—in a very real way—ruling at gunpoint. In a country once praised for its participatory democracy, Venezuela’s elections are now a complete sham. Elected officials have been replaced by appointed judges. Maduro has maintained control by keeping the military’s pockets comfortably lined. The 80% disapproval rate of the Maduro regime means very little without any real democratic power.
The Venezuelan people have done what they can. Bravely conducting protest marches of historic proportions, though, has subjected the people to even more regime violence. Maduro’s military forces have, on many occasions, fired upon the non-violent protests, leading to hundreds of civilian deaths and over 15,000 injuries. In fact, this utter helplessness of the people offers concrete support for any decision the U.S. administration might make to intervene.
Venezuela is already in a state of hellish chaos. The statistics of violence are comparable only to recent memory’s most tragically failed states. Now is not the time to shy away from the obvious––responsibility for this situation lies primarily in the hands of Nicolas Maduro. Indeed, considering the suffering to which the Venezuelan people are presently subject, the argument that U.S. efforts to topple the Maduro regime would do anything but help Venezuela is simply untenable.
In response to the second concern, that the U.S. should not involve itself in foreign countries’ local politics unless they pose a direct national security threat, one need only cite the increasingly strong relationships between the Maduro regime and Russia, China, North Korea, and Cuba. These countries, in fact, were four of the only six countries who have expressed their support for Maduro, against the more than 30 countries who have expressed support for Guaido, the opposition leader.
But it’s worth asking, as it is with any foreign policy decision: does this diplomatic link really pose any geopolitical threat to the United States? Well, for starters, the Maduro regime allowed for two Russian nuclear-capable bombers to land in Venezuela last month, where Russian forces conducted military exercises alongside Venezuelan troops, adding to mounting speculation that Russia is looking to establish a military base in country.
Secondly, the economic and military link between China and the Maduro regime has continuously grown. In return for access to Venezuelan oil and other resources, China has been propping up the dictatorship through loan payments amounting to over $65 billion. Slowly, and quietly, China is buying out Venezuelan resources, and gaining more and more control of the Maduro regime’s decisions – just recall the recent landing of a Chinese naval ship in Venezuela last September. These developments simply cannot go unnoticed by the United States.
Venezuela and North Korea also recently agreed to strengthen “diplomatic and economic” ties, while the link between Castro’s Cuba and Maduro’s Venezuela remains as historically strong as ever. Considering the increasing influence of Russia, China, and North Korea in Venezuela, and remembering that Miami is only a 3-hour flight away from Caracas, the idea that Venezuela poses no direct threat to US national security appears naïve at best––and reckless at worst.
Regardless of how one approaches foreign policy—either out of concern for the well-being of oppressed peoples, or with an eye exclusively to U.S. national security—it is imperative that the United States maintain its forceful approach to the Venezuelan crisis, and President Trump must ensure the Maduro regime is toppled.
Nicolas Abouchedid is a Venezuelan citizen and a sophomore at Notre Dame. He studies in the Program of Liberal Studies, with minors in Chinese and Philosophy. He can be reached at email@example.com