By Holly Williams
Elm Staff Writer
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro faces the threat of being unseated by an opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, just six weeks after the beginning of his second term.
The coup comes at an especially perilous time in Venezuela’s history. Blackouts, medical shortages, and starvation are daily realities. The economic crisis in the country is more severe than the Great Depression in the U.S.
Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-run National Assembly, used articles from the Venezuelan Constitution to argue for his legitimacy. He declared himself acting President on Jan. 23. His claim to the presidency comes after an election last year that many denounced as undemocratic. The Maduro regime either barred opponents from running or jailed them. Dissent and protests reached a zenith after Maduro won.
Maduro first rose to power as the successor for Venezuela’s former president, Hugo Chavez, after his death in 2013.
Chavez, a populist, won the presidency after the Bolivarian Revolution, a period that signified Venezuela’s departure from aligning with the foreign policy interests of the U.S. Chavez ushered in an era of authoritarian socialism. While still steeped in corruption, Chavez led a far more prosperous Venezuela than Maduro, in a period which saw decreasing poverty.
However, Chavez failed to address unmitigated spending and a growing deficit. Falling oil prices would make Venezuela’s undiversified economy impossible to sustain, which is precisely what happened when Maduro took over. Maduro’s policy decisions sent the economy into freefall, all while consolidating his autocratic power.
Now, paradoxically, the most oil-rich country on the planet is in economic collapse.
The U.S. and over a dozen other countries have announced support for Guaidó. Russia, China, and Turkey still support Maduro. While the Venezuelan public overwhelmingly wants Maduro out of office, the stance of the country’s military appears to back Maduro’s regime.
The announcement from the Trump Administration recognizing Guaidó spurred Maduro to give all U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. President Trump has since floated U.S. military intervention in Venezuela as “an option.”
The U.S. has already imposed oil sanctions in addition to economic sanctions from last year. These sanctions are only aggravating the crisis, especially considering that Venezuela derives 95 percent of its revenue from oil sales.
Our government is not oblivious to this fact. A Congressional Research Service report from November 2018 notes that “stronger sanctions could exacerbate Venezuela’s difficult humanitarian situation.” While designed to put pressure on the finances of Maduro and his cronies, they are equally consequential for the citizens of Venezuela.
Despite the clear need for change in Venezuela, military intervention and harsh sanctions are not ideal, nor are they likely to result in the peace and prosperity the country deserves.
One need look no further than the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, or Guatemala to understand the track record of the U.S. raining chaos on the countries it chooses to invade. Coups backed by the U.S. often end up serving the country’s own business interests rather than the citizens of Latin America.
Intervention would possibly increase support for the very president it would try to usurp, as the U.S. becomes an easy scapegoat for turmoil. The humanitarian crisis would be worsened by violent conflict, causing more outpouring of citizens from the country, and perhaps another long-term military mess like Afghanistan.
Countries should continue to rescind support of Maduro. With Guaidó as an interim president, hopefully Venezuela can elect the leader they feel serves their interests, and start the process of rebuilding. The U.S. should focus now on providing aid to those who are seeking asylum.
Venezuelans made up most asylum seekers to the U.S. in 2017, yet Syracuse University found that nearly half of Venezuelans in the past five years have been denied asylum.
Americans are faced with a narrative surrounding immigrants that is disingenuous. It is a rhetoric that promotes intervention as “defending democracy,” yet also vilifies migrant caravans as full of dangerous criminals.
If humanitarianism is truly the concern, then why is the government so apathetic to those seeking refuge? Why have we left neighboring countries to handle the brunt of the displaced?
It is not the role of the U.S. to intervene and rob Venezuela of its autonomy. We must stop perpetuating the cycle of making homelands inhospitable, then rejecting those who would flee across borders to escape it.