U.S. armed forces ready to support self-declared Venezuelan president Guaidó
President Trump has warned Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro that a military action is an option in case he orders armed intimidation against self-declared Venezuelan ad interim president Guaidó and the Venezulan opposition. U.S. forces are preparing a possible intervention, starting namely from the Colombian soil, it seems. So, Maduro is sending his army, currently loyal to him, to that border.
To what extent would U.S. troops intervene in a military action against Venezuelan dictatorship? (Picture source: U.S. Army / Staff Sgt. Brandon Ames)
A socioeconomic and political crisis began in Venezuela in 2010 under the presidency of Hugo Chávez and has continued into the current harshly disputed presidency of Nicolás Maduro. The current situation is the worst economic crisis in Venezuela's history and among the worst crises experienced in the Americas, with hyperinflation, soaring hunger, disease, crime and death rates, and massive emigration from the country.
Observers and economists have stated that the crisis is not the result of a conflict or natural disaster but the consequences of populist policies that began under the Chávez administration's Bolivarian Revolution, with the Brookings Institution stating that "Venezuela has really become the poster child for how the combination of corruption, economic mismanagement, and undemocratic governance can lead to widespread suffering". The nation is in chaos.
The government failed to cut spending in the face of falling oil revenues and has dealt with the crisis by denying its existence and violently repressing opposition. Political corruption, chronic shortages of food and medicine, closure of companies, unemployment, deterioration of productivity, authoritarianism, human rights violations, gross economic mismanagement and high dependence on oil have also contributed to the worsening crisis.
The contraction of national and per capita GDPs in Venezuela between 2013 and 2017 was more severe than that of the United States during the Great Depression, or of Russia, Cuba, and Albania following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, the annual inflation rate for consumer prices rose thousands of percentage points, while the economy contracted by nearly 20% annually.
The crisis has affected the life of the average Venezuelan on all levels. Hunger has escalated to the point where nearly 75% of the population has lost an average of over 8 kg (over 19 lbs) in weight, almost 90% of the population is living in poverty, and more than half doesn't have enough income to meet their basic food needs. From the beginning of the crisis to 2017, more than 2.3 million Venezuelans left the country. Venezuela leads the world in murder rates, with 90 per 100,000 people killed in 2015 (compared to 5.35 per 100,000 in the US) making it one of the most violent countries in the world.
In 2018, the leader of the National Assembly declared the presidency of Nicolas Maduro invalid due to a rigged election and recently declared himself to be president ad interim for the shortest period of time possible until free, fair and transparent (at last) elections can be organized.
Some American politicians want direct military intervention by the United States to help Juan Gerardo Guaidó restore democracy. On August 11, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he is "not going to rule out a military option" to confront the autocratic government of Nicolás Maduro and the deepening crisis in Venezuela. However, some of Trump's advisers explained that it is not wise to even discuss a military solution, due to the long history of unpopular intervention in Latin America by the United States. Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino immediately criticized Trump for his statement, calling it "an act of supreme extremism" and "an act of madness".
Representatives of the United States were in contact with dissident Venezuelan military officers during 2017 and 2018 but declined to collaborate with them or provide assistance to them.
The opinion of other Latin American nations was split with respect to military intervention. Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), while visiting Colombia, did not rule out the potential benefit of the use of military force to intervene with the crisis. Canada, Colombia and Guyana, which are members of the Lima Group, refused to sign the organization's document rejecting military intervention in Venezuela.
Besides that, some Americans are worrying about a possible U.S. military intervention, reminding that the U.S. systematically proved to be very bad at managing the aftermath of covert or overt regime change. With a few exceptions, American-instigated regime changes since the middle of the last century have had disastrous unintended long-term consequences, Gary Anderson comments in The Washington Times. Much of the animus that Iranians hold for America stems from the 1952 CIA-sponsored coup that put the shah (emperor) back on the throne in Iran. In 1963, the ouster of the Vô Ding Diêm regime in South Vietnam was followed by a period of political instability that only ended when the Communist North Vietnamese Army entered Saigon on April 30, 1975, two weeks after the bloody Khmers Rouges had entered Phnom Penh and started their genocide. And the world is still living with the unintended consequences of the ousters of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi.
The exception that proves the rule is Panama, where the American overthrow of the criminal regime of Manuel Noriega was well conceived and precisely executed, Gary Anderson reminds. George Bush (senior) knew how to run a coup; it was carried out against an unpopular dictator amid an economy ruined by corruption and kleptocracy. Some would argue that the same ingredients are present in Venezuela, but that would be a false analogy.
The situation in Venezuela is the worst of all ever endured in the Americas. The only pillar that remains holding up the tottering Chavez-era dictatorship is the army. Like all tinpot South American dictatorships, the senior military leadership is pampered and well-off to ensure its continuing loyalty while those in the ranks suffer with the rest of the population. Poverty in the ranks is the critical vulnerability of what remains of the regime’s strength. If the rank and file of the military can be weaned away from their senior leadership, the Maduro regime will probably collapse.
On Monday, January 28, during a briefing at the White House to announce sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry, U.S. National security adviser John Bolton appeared to disclose confidential notes written on a yellow pad. He held the notepad against his jacket with its pages facing outward. These notes, The Washington Post reports, referred to a plan to send troops to Colombia amid escalating tensions with Venezuela.
Scrawled in tight print at the top of the cover page were two items: “Afghanistan -> Welcome the Talks,” an apparent reference to ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban, and “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Asked about the briefing pad, the White House pointed to statements made by President Trump and Bolton in recent days that “all options are on the table” regarding Venezuela. John Bolton urged the military to accept a "peaceful, democratic and constitutional" transition from power. And Juan Guaido offered amnesty to the officials and military agreeing to support him. Dissent begins to appear: Venezuela's military attache in Washington, Colonel José Luis Silva, defected on Saturday and called the army to shift its support toward democratically elected Juan Guaidó.
Pentagon officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said that the Defense Department hadn’t received any orders to this effect. The plan raised more questions about the potential for military action in Venezuela. What support would Colombia give to a U.S.military action? With what reward? The situation would become internationally more complex than it appears at first glance.
Indeed, Russia and China have expressed their support to their Venezuelan ally. "We will defend our interests in the framework of international law, using all the mechanisms at our disposal," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Russia has invested billions of dollars in oil and weapons in Venezuela. As the main creditor of Caracas, China also said it was "opposed to unilateral sanctions," through Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. North Korea, Turkey and Cuba also support Nicolas Maduro.
The U.S., Canada, many European and Latin American countries openly support the democratically elected leader of the Venezuelan National. The European Parliament on 31 January acknowledged Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as its country's "legitimate acting president" and called on all EU countries to do the same by adopting a "firm and unified position" in a resolution voted on Brussels. MEPs recognized Mr. Guaido "as the legitimate acting president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" and "fully supported" his program, in this text proposed jointly by the main political groups and approved by a large majority (439 for, 104 against, 88 abstentions). They called on the head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini "and the member states to adopt a firm and unified position and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate interim president of the country", in the resolution adopted in plenary session in Brussels. This recognition of the Venezuelan opponent, self-proclaimed President of Venezuela, will exercise "until the holding of new free, transparent and credible presidential elections to restore democracy," they said.
The UN Security Council will become the theater of harsh opposition between pro- and anti-democracy partisans. But the world knows that president Trump will not be impressed by any opposition to his intentions toward this unfortunate country. The forthcoming days will indisputably be "interesting".