Be Wary of American Interest in Venezuela

Benjamin Moore argues that US recognition of Juan Guaidó as the Venezuelan president, an action in stark contrast with the Trump administration's typical anti-interventionist stance, should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism to avoid pitfalls of the past.

Benjamin Moore
February 10, 2019

With the ongoing political commotion in Venezuela, the United States finds itself in an increasingly precarious position as it weighs its diplomatic and non-diplomatic options to temper the situation. While the US recognized Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela mere minutes after his public declaration, the legitimacy of US concerns for the turbulent nation should be at the forefront of any diplomatic discussion and analysis. Given the questionable track record of American foreign policy towards Latin America (the Reagan Doctrine springs to mind), it is difficult to withhold skepticism that the US is acting impartially and in the interest of democratic hegemony.

On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump stated that a military intervention in the embattled country was “an option,” which prompted a bitter response from ousted president Nicolas Maduro, warning that the US president was in danger of making mistakes that will “stain his hands with blood.” While one can excoriate Trump and many of the controversial policies initiated by his administration thus far, his presidency remains untarnished with a foreign invasion or influx of troops overseas.

Nevertheless, questions must be asked of the Trump administration’s apparent willingness, if not enthusiasm, for a Venezuelan intervention, when its proclivity towards international isolationism has dominated its foreign policy over the last two years. Curiously, there also has been a notable absence of inflammatory rhetoric from the U.S. president that has come to be expected when Trump condemns other nations he considers at odds with his own, such as Iran, Mexico, or North Korea.

Indeed, the hypocrisy from the White House with regards to the stability of Venezuela is palpable. The United States has as its president an unabashed nationalist in Donald Trump, whose rallying “America First” dogma, anti-interventionist convictions, and continual retreat from global commitments helped carry him to the Oval Office and retain the enduring support of his base. Ordinarily, Trump displays a disinterest in, and perhaps ignorance of, issues of human rights and democracy beyond America’s shores. Yet in the case of Venezuela, we are witnessing his consideration for quelling unrest in a region that ranks quite low on the foreign policy concerns of the US.

Despite any skepticism that may exist, support for Venezuela from the international community is not an action that should be dismissed outright. The oil-rich country is rife with political corruption, social poverty, and economic stagnation. Although never considered a shining beacon of democracy, Maduro and the authoritarian policies he has enacted since the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 are largely responsible for Venezuela’s current state. As a leader, Maduro is undeserving of international support or empathy as he publicly lambasts his removal from office.

The internal politics of Venezuela is certainly in despair, and while it is clear that something needs to be done, history dictates that US unilateral intervention is not the answer. There have been offers from neighboring nations such as Mexico and Uruguay to act as mediators at an international conference, but so far these propositions have been rejected. A national dialogue instigated at the behest of international diplomats can aid in securing a collective political agreement, but direct, foreign intervention is a recipe for disaster.

The US is not alone in its recognition of Venezuela’s interim president, yet it is U.S. interest in the commotion that should invite the most hesitation. Though it is tempting to attribute Trump’s recent remarks to his general ignorance of world affairs, it would be dangerous to dismiss them in the context of America’s historical and geopolitical relationship with the region.

The status quo of the Maduro regime cannot be allowed to continue, even if backing and installing Guido will be like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. Real and virulent change can only be enacted from Venezuela internally through a politically engaged and socially conscious electorate, combined with cohesive regional dialogue and minimal interference from external actors. Using history as our guide, mediations on military interference by the U.S. president are both counterproductive and antithetical to a cohesive and peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Benjamin Moore is a master's graduate of International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland. His areas of interest and research include U.S. foreign policy and 20th century American history, which he covers on his blog.