The U.S. steps up support of Venezuela’s opposition
Pressured by massive street protests, a charismatic political antagonist, and a cutoff of U.S. oil revenue, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reluctantly offered this week to negotiate with the opposition. Maduro’s overture signaled his growing fear of losing a six-year grip on power after a convulsive week in the South American nation. The previous week, National Assembly head Juan Guaidó, 35, boldly declared himself the legitimate president amid tens of thousands of supporters—days after Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term following an election in which opponents were barred from running. The U.S. immediately recognized Guaidó, the first of several nations to do so, including Brazil and Canada. China and Russia, among others, are supporting Maduro, who is now reportedly protected by Kremlin-backed mercenaries. The Trump administration sanctioned the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., freezing $7 billion in U.S.-based assets. Venezuela had been selling 500,000 daily barrels of oil to U.S. refineries, and the loss of billions in revenue will be crippling to the Maduro regime. Venezuela’s socialist government has presided over a major economic crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation, and an exodus of 3 million refugees.
As the Maduro government continued a crackdown that has left 35 dead and seen 850-plus arrested, national security adviser John Bolton warned Maduro against any violence toward Guaidó and the opposition. “The president has made it clear on this matter that all options are on the table,” Bolton said. He was seen holding a pad on which “5,000 troops to Colombia” had been written—a reference that the White House confirmed concerned Venezuela.
What the editorials said
President Trump acted decisively with his “quick recognition” of Guaidó, said the Miami Herald—an “important step,” to be sure, in “increasing international pressure on Maduro.” The U.S. and other democracies have sent a powerful message that “Venezuelans are not alone.” Maduro, whose regime has persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured opponents, must go. But it’s Venezuelans themselves who must remove him.
As socialist ideas become mainstream in the U.S., “the lesson of Venezuela is one that American voters should take to heart,” said the Washington Examiner. Socialism, of every variety, is a corrosive force ruinous to every country in which it’s taken root. Don’t forget this when you see U.S. politicians embrace this failed system.
What the columnists said
Worryingly, conditions seem ripe for a Trump-ordered invasion of Venezuela, said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. The president just suffered a humiliating defeat on border wall funding, and when “presidents are stymied at home they often look overseas” for quick wins. And now the so-called grown-ups in the room are gone, replaced by Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Elliott Abrams, the Ronald Reagan aide who shaped that administration’s Nicaragua policy. Loud as the “chorus of voices calling for intervention may be,” said Lyman Stone in TheFederalist.com, the president should not listen. The U.S. should not sacrifice “lives and resources” in Venezuela. Cooler heads can “remind the nation that invading other countries has not usually gone very well.”
But consider the alternatives to dispatching at least a small military force to the region, said Matthew Continetti in NationalReview.com: “Venezuela could fall into civil war. Or Maduro might take a page from Bashar al-Assad’s playbook and invite foreign militaries to secure his rule.” Recall that just last year the Russians deployed two nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela before a U.S. protest sent them packing. Don’t rule out military assistance—tyrants leave only after being “made to feel the threat of force.”
Whether or not “another bout of military adventurism” is wise, Venezuela could prove an “irresistible military target” for Trump, said Tina Nguyen in VanityFair.com. American conservatives have employed the socialist country’s stunning failures as a rebuttal to progressives. “Want more government spending? A higher minimum wage? National health care?” Well, just look at how all that played out in Venezuela, they say. That helps explain why a president bent on avoiding military conflicts talks about toppling Maduro. He may see a U.S. invasion as a way “to own the libs” and “make an example of the far left.”