Venezuela is no stranger to crises – it has repeatedly faced both internal strife and financial ruin. Between 1895 and 1902, the Latin American country was engulfed in a civil war, an economic crisis, and political upheaval. The turmoil temporarily ceased in 1920 when the country discovered it had one of the world’s largest crude oil reserves, and quickly began exporting more oil than any other nation. That didn’t prevent it from becoming a victim of dictatorships, military coups, and foreign interventions. Caracas may have survived these events, but it wasn’t until the socialism blitzkrieg of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro that Venezuela was pummeled into submission. Since the end of January, Venezuela has been submerged in chaos fueled by a corrupt government, a rigged election, and a fed-up population.
In May 2018, President Nicolás Maduro won his re-election bid. However, it wasn’t until the next January when he would be sworn in for a second term, pending an international probe into the integrity of the election. In the meantime, the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself the interim president. Citing a manipulated electoral contest and accusing Maduro of being a “usurper,” Guaidó announced that the presidency was vacant. When this happens, he contended, the constitution verifies that the head of the National Assembly becomes the temporary leader.
With several nations on his side, including the U.S., Guaidó has been trying to persuade the military to ditch their allegiance to Maduro. Recently, he urged security forces, an immense power player in the country, to participate with him in the “final phase” of kicking Maduro out of office.
But Maduro has continually claimed that this is “an attempted coup.” This has given his important allies, mainly China and Russia, with an excuse to stay by the current administration’s side. Despite President Donald Trump stating that President Vladimir Putin is not interfering in Venezuela, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Russia discouraged Maduro from leaving the country for Cuba. This claim was denied by the Kremlin.
Throughout this chaotic time, violence has broken out on the streets on a near-daily basis. This uprising has captured the global media spotlight, but it has not been successful in ousting Maduro or weakening his power. Some reports suggest there is calm in Caracas, but it is being described as “an uneasy peace.” That said, swathes of the anti-government crowd have insisted that it will not concede defeat anytime soon, pointing to the harsh conditions of living in the once prosperous state. Yellow water, power outages, and food shortages, remnants of the disastrous policies of socialism, are now the norm; local experts are sounding the alarm about a health epidemic.
Still, many are optimistic that Maduro will be gone any day now, despite him claiming that the coup has been “defeated.” Even if Venezuelans fail at taking him out, neighboring countries, with the aid of the U.S. government, will possibly do it. Although President Trump has reiterated on multiple occasions that he wants to take a hands-off approach, administration officials of the neoconservative persuasion have been more honest about American intervention in one way or another.
Is Washington Getting Involved?
Senior national security aides to the president recently met at the Pentagon to review a “comprehensive set of options” for the government’s next measures in Venezuela. In fact, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan confirmed that “all options are on the table,” and when pressed if this includes U.S military action, Shanahan told reporters “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”
The meeting included a briefing by the head of the Miami-based Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller. His review consisted of outlining options for the U.S. military, such as humanitarian assistance and support for civilians. Reportedly, it did not include plans for potential intervention.
Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton have publicly said that Moscow is propping up the Maduro regime with money and equipment. Putin has been public about his desire for the government and the opposition to negotiate a proper and peaceful settlement. According to Bolton, who spoke to the media outside the White House, there have been several key figures in the government who have engaged with Guaidó’s opposition. The conclusion is: “Maduro has to go.”
Bolton described the unfolding situation as “a very delicate moment”:
“They need to be able to act this afternoon or this evening to help bring other forces to the side of the interim president. They committed to support ousting Maduro and it’s time for them now, if the Cubans will let them, to do it to fulfill their commitments.”
For now, it is unclear what the U.S. will do in the imminent future, mainly because of the public dissonance between President Trump and his national security team. Critics of the foreign policy establishment assert that the U.S. is directly participating in regime change, a view supported by Maduro loyalists, who were quoted by the BBC:
“We’re being punished because we’re not a servile government to U.S. interests. If a change comes it must be for better, not for worse. Not to allow the opposition to take everything we’ve built over the years.”
But prominent names in Washington aver that everything happening on the ground is the doing of Venezuelans – the good and the bad – and not the United States.
The Survival of Maduro
Should Maduro survive, Venezuela will never change for the better – it will only worsen. Venezuela could metastasize into Cuba: deeply impoverished, corrupt, tyrannical, and isolated from the rest of the world, except for a handful of states who are adversaries of the west. That might be a good thing for socialist advocates, but it isn’t a positive development for people who have become accustomed to eating, drinking water, and living with electricity.
For a glimpse of a Venezuela still headed by Maduro in a post-crisis world, you need to look at a recent move by the central bank. Because a growing number of foreign financial institutions have been unwilling to complete transactions coming out of Caracas due to U.S.-led sanctions, Banco Central de Venezuela has used wheelbarrows of physical cash instead of electronic transfers to sell foreign exchange to local banks. This shows how primitive the economy has become and how hyperinflation has eviscerated the monetary system.
Local businesses have a hard time participating in international commerce because foreign entities refuse to accept bolivars, leading these same companies to pay salaries, purchase inventories, and exchange with other private firms in euros. Analysts warn that foreign enterprises may not do business with Venezuelan firms out of fear of reprisal by the U.S. government.
Well, at least Maduro has his empanadas. Let them eat empanadas!
This is what Venezuela can look forward to if the Maduro presidency survives. In addition to the status quo of starvation, misery, outbreaks, and power outages, Venezuela will be even more isolated from the rest of the world. It might be too simplistic for critics to blame the U.S. for the crisis and coup attempt. The socialists brought it upon themselves by imposing widespread misery with price controls, production quotas, currency restrictions, hyperinflation, and all the other hallmarks of socialism. It was only a matter of time before the people revolted – there’s only so much hunger one can take.
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