Finally Signs of Hope for Venezuela?
Is it too soon to cheer for the Venezuelan people, who have taken their future into their own hands – at grave risk? Is it too soon to cheer the Trump administration for offering the interim government of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó support and recognition? Is it too soon to cheer the solidarity of the Western Hemisphere (minus Cuba and, sadly, Mexico)?
No. It is not.
Regardless of what happens tomorrow, this is a moment to hope, pray, hold our breath, and cheer. Video is available showing tens of thousands of Venezuelans marching through Caracas in support of Guaidó; other clips show security forces using live ammunition on people running through the streets. Thus far, the Venezuelan military has appeared loyal to Maduro, and at least eight people were reported killed in the streets.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said, "We call on the Venezuelan military and security forces to continue protecting the welfare and well-being of all Venezuelan citizens, as well as U.S. and other foreign citizens in Venezuela." It can be taken as a warning.
The Russians are there. Perhaps sensing trouble, in December, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that "two Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers, an Antonov An-124 heavy military transport aircraft and an Ilyushin Il-62 long-haul plane arrived at in Caracas." Venezuela's defense minister said up to 100 Russian personnel would arrive as part of a joint exercise. Not to be left out, Iranian naval deputy commander Rear Admiral Touraj Hassani Mogaddam announced, "Among our plans in the near future is to send two or three vessels with special helicopters to Venezuela in South America on a mission that could last five months."
Will they fight for their guy? Probably not, although Venezuela is heavily in debt to both Russia and China. Who rules matters.
The American response, in the hemispheric sense, is a wonder. The United States, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile rose together to recognize the interim government. Maduro blames the United States, but we didn't have to. The understanding from the top of Canada to the bottom of Chile is that the people have a right to express their views in a free and fair election – and Maduro did not give them that. Mexico and Cuba stand alone in supporting Mr. Maduro. Cuba isn't surprising, but Mexico should be ashamed. The remaining countries have taken no position.
It is worth a detour here, a short recap. Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro, and Hugo Chávez before him, took a wealthy, democratic country with oil reserves enough to help the poorer segments of the country and, by imposing on the people an extreme form of socialism with draconian limits on civil and political rights, wrecked it. Professor Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University calculated the inflation rate at 80,000 percent for 2018. Human Rights Watch castigated the Maduro government for ignoring the crisis in food and medicine. "Authorities deny the existence of a crisis. They have not articulated or implemented effective policies to alleviate it on their own, and have made only limited efforts to obtain international humanitarian assistance that could significantly bolster their own limited efforts." Looting and "dumpster diving" are common occurrences, and 3 million people are said to have left the country. As long as two years ago, it was reported that Venezuela's poorest population had lost an average of 19 pounds, and many, even in higher income brackets, were skipping meals. Nothing has gotten better since then.
There is a message here for American socialists.
Another short recap: Venezuela and Iran have worked together to finance terrorism through the drug trade and to promote virulent anti-Americanism across South America. Hezb'allah is the third leg of the triad. Iran's Quds Force – established in 1980 and responsible for external Iranian military operations, including in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central Asia – was said to be operating in Venezuela as early as 2015.
That gives the United States and our South American allies in fighting the monster of the drug trade, coupled with terrorist weapons and ideology, a legitimate reason to be concerned about who governs Venezuela.
The Trump administration has played it well in the first hours.
Maduro tried to expel diplomats from the United States and other countries that have sided with the interim government. Secretary Pompeo replied, "The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela. Accordingly, the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata."
Tomorrow is another day. But if the people of Venezuela win their battle for freedom and an economic system that allows them to prosper as they have in the past, there is hope as well for other people under the boot of repressive governments.
Iran comes to mind.