After 18 years of inaction by former U.S. administrations, Trump was the first to carry a big stick against the dictatorial Chavismo regime in Venezuela, while hardly speaking softly about it. However, it’s looking more and more like a repeat of Castro’s Cuba, and short of military intervention, it doesn’t appear that illegitimately “elected” President Nicolas Maduro is leaving any time soon.
Past history of “negative” U.S. involvement in Latin America has been one reason for American military restraint (and I would love to debate how negative some of that involvement actually was), but it’s far from the only reason. Anti-Trumpism, the radical and growing progressive left in the states, plus neighboring Latin America’s unwillingness to put their military money where their mouth is, all contribute to shackling American muscle in toppling the Maduro regime.
The Venezuelan people themselves are also majorly to blame, not doing enough to justify or deserve outside military assistance. Without sufficient civil disobedience, unrest, and yes, violence, America has no “excuse” to put boots on the ground, or at the very least, let a few targeted missiles fly here and there to send a stronger message. A real message.
So we have a hemisphere (and world, actually) where only the United States has the military power, intelligence, logistical superiority, experience and will to alleviate this humanitarian disaster, but no other country in the hemisphere wants us to do it. This, because most of Latin America thinks Democracy comes about by pure accident and doesn’t have to be fought for. And this also at the same time tens of thousands of Latinos are illegally breaching U.S. borders, and these Latin American leaders complain that Trump is trying to stop them from destroying our Democracy!
I can’t think of anything Trump could have or should have done differently in the case of Venezuela, short of that military intervention. Fidel at least had the support of the former USSR for a long time, unlike Maduro, who owes billions to Russia, but the scenarios are remarkably similar. The suffering of the people doesn’t matter, the regimes just wait it out, double down on the anti-Gringo socialist bullshit, rinse and repeat. The world simply gets bored after a while and moves on, attending to more urgent matters.
So I think it’s all over for Venezuela, despite supposedly more drastic U.S. sanctions soon coming. Venezuela is what it is, and will be for a long time, unless the U.S. goes in. As of now, nothing to see here folks so move on; the fat lady has sung.
In case anyone is still paying attention, or even cares, “interim President” Juan Guaidó hasn’t been arrested yet, but he’s been banned from running for office for 15 years, illegally banned of course. (Fascinating stuff, huh?) Another major power outage hit the country this past week, with the Chavistas blaming U.S. cyber attacks. (What a surprise.) And 100 Russian military personnel landed to work on previously Russian-supplied anti-aircraft, anti-missile systems which were supposedly damaged during the power outages. (Who the heck knows for sure.)
These 100 Russian soldiers certainly aren’t a game changer, but they’re a sticky detail:
If the U.S. ever decides to go after these anti-aircraft, anti-missile sites, it would be done by naval vessels, but now at the high risk of killing Russians. The introduction of additional Russian personnel into Venezuela would simply exacerbate this Catch 22, further shortening Trump’s military leash. (A few Russian deaths won’t start WWIII, but no one on either side wants to see that.)
If political conditions had allowed, the U.S. should have struck weeks ago, albeit limited and strategically, against those missile sites, so the Russians wouldn’t then dare send in troops in response. Moscow just doesn’t have the reach or will to effectively fight in this region in this kind of limited conflict, so instead, they now have their human shields there, ignoring U.S. demands to get out.
There’s a palpable sense of frustration in the White House, despite U.S. Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams’ affirmations to the contrary. He’s doing a great job at telling the truth and not clouding the reality, but it’s hard to have all that much confidence in his optimism. More troubling are anonymous reports that many regional leaders are losing confidence in Maduro’s ouster, and that it’s game over. Although anonymous, it’s hard not to believe their validity.
So as always, we’ll see what’s next for Venezuela, but I don’t think what we’re going to see will be very pretty from a U.S. policy point of view. And Fidel’s ghost is having a good laugh about it.