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U.S. Options in Venezuela’s Crisis Aren’t War or Nothing

- 02/28/2019

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“That’s the country we should be going to war with. They have all that oil and they’re right on our back door.”

According to former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, this is what Donald Trump said about Venezuela. His account is heavily supported by other reports that Trump has repeatedly asked his advisors about military action in Venezuela, literally from day one in office. Reports also indicate he coordinated with potential coup plotters in Venezuela in the hopes of facilitating regime change.

It seems pretty clear that Trump has a long-standing desire to militarily invade Venezuela. Now compare that with the administration’s recent lip service about human rights and humanitarian aid for the people of Venezuela, while continuing to largely ignore human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen, among others. It’s a complicated situation that’s rapidly escalating, but there’s one thing we can say for sure: a military intervention will only hurt, and not help, the people of Venezuela and we will oppose it. Here’s why we think this.

Our first grounding principle should be in affirming the needs of Venezuelans, standing in solidarity with them, and committing to do what we can to help and not harm. It’s no secret that Venezuelans are suffering, and have been for awhile.

As prices and inflation have soared, and the availability of food and medicine has plummeted, millions of Venezuelans have fled, while others have filled the streets in protest. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro (who took over following the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013), has cracked down on protestors, thrown opponents and dissidents in jail, and engaged in widespread corruption. Now, after a highly-disputed, flawed election process, Maduro claims he is the rightful leader of Venezuela while opposition leader Juan Guaido claims that HE is the rightful leader of Venezuela. Once considered the wealthiest country in Latin America, Venezuela now faces an unprecedented political and economic crisis.

If the United States is serious about helping the people of Venezuela, there are things they can do right now. Way too often, Members of Congress and political candidates behave as if our options are “war” or “nothing.” The truth is that the United States has powerful political and diplomatic tools at its disposal to aid Venezuelans and work toward a political solution to the conflict. Here are just a few things the Trump administration could be doing immediately if it is sincere in its stated desire to help:

  • Endorse Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela;

  • Fully fund and increase refugee resettlement goals, and grant asylum to Venezuelans seeking safety in the United States;

  • Facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid through apolitical international institutions with technical expertise;

  • Increase funding to the United Nations to fulfill its humanitarian funding appeal that is currently only 7% funded;  

  • Endorse coordinated, multilateral pressure on the Maduro regime through diplomacy and constructive, targeted sanctions that would not further harm the Venezuelan people;

  • Support multilateral engagement that could lead to a negotiated political solution to the crisis and ensure the people of Venezuela lead in determining their own leadership through new elections. (Note: Maduro is a serial abuser of dialogue. But there are serious multilateral efforts for seeking to facilitate negotiation that should be supported, not opposed. These efforts should focus on offering incentives for key Maduro regime supports, like the military, to defect.)

It’s telling that Trump isn’t doing any of these things. Instead, look at the administration’s “humanitarian aid” actions. Instead of working through impartial, international institutions to facilitate aid that Maduro would allow in, the U.S. is attempting to provoke a conflict on the border of Venezuela and Colombia by attempting to deliver its own aid, knowing it would be rejected by Maduro’s regime. Perhaps The Onion had the best take on this stunt, which appears designed to initiate a skirmish to justify a military intervention.

That takes us to the second grounding principle: U.S. military invasion would only make things worse for the people of Venezuela. When the U.S. military gets involved, things often get worse for everybody, but especially the people whose human rights the United States claim to be concerned about.

History points us toward an ugly pattern of the United States using its military and intelligence powers to interfere in Latin American governments and prop up regimes that serve its own corporate interests. These wars often start under the guise of “human rights” or “democracy,” but ultimately boil down to supporting governments that serve U.S. interests, and squelching those that do not.

This is exactly what we could expect if the U.S. goes to war in Venezuela. Already, interviews on the ground indicate that when the U.S. threatens to invade, Maduro’s support tends to increase, as he cynically attempts to cast the opposition as collaborators in a U.S.-backed coup attempt. Meanwhile, the majority of the Venezuelan people prefer a negotiated solution to the crisis and oppose a foreign military intervention, even if it removed Maduro from power.

Further, throwing a match on the conflict in Venezuela risks igniting a civil war that could quickly lead to a multinational war. Russia supports the Maduro regime and could bring a coalition of countries or mercenaries to fight in opposition to a U.S.-led coalition. As we saw in Iraq, a multinational regime change war would only lead to a destabilized region without a plan for how to move forward, all of which would lead to a quagmire that deepens Venezuelan suffering and takes them further from self-determination and true security.

Last but not least, we have to state the obvious: Trump has no congressional authorization to go to war in Venezuela. According to the Constitution, Congress and not the president holds the power to decide if, when and where we go to war. If Congress abdicates its constitutional responsibilities on war and peace in Venezuela, then Trump will get the message that he can wage wars anywhere he wants, without any consequence. If Congress gives up their power on stopping war in Venezuela, other potential wars—like war with Iran—become all the more likely.

The case seems clear: we must vigorously oppose military action in Venezuela because we know it will only harm Venezuelans further. Rather than falling for Trump’s disingenuous claims of support for human right and democracy—which he has worked to undermine since his first day in office—we are looking for Democrats (and all elected officials) to interrupt Trump’s march to war and demonstrate their own vision for U.S. leadership to do all in its power to actually help the people of Venezuela and find a true solution to this crisis.