On Wednesday the newly elected leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, took to the streets and declared himself the new President of Venezuela. He and the opposition to the Maduro government in Venezuela believe the recent presidential elections were fraudulent and therefore the reelection of Nicolas Maduro is not legitimate. Guaido has explained he is assuming the office of Venezuela’s presidency until new elections can be held.
For the purposes of absolute clarity, it should be noted:
- Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has not stepped down from office since his inauguration earlier this month.
- No votes have been given to Juan Guaido for the presidency.
- No election for the presidency in which Juan Guaido was a candidate has been held.
The actions of Juan Guaido are comparable to Representative Nancy Pelosi or Senator Chuck Schumer standing up on the streets of Washington DC today and declaring themselves President of the United States.
Within minutes of Guaido’s declaration, President Trump endorsed him as the official and legitimate representative of the Venezuelan people. The move was described by the BBC as “clearly coordinated.” Moments later several South American countries followed suit.
The situation in Venezuela is dire as the state teeters on the verge of collapse. It is one of the most significant regional issues in South America in 2019. Nicolas Maduro is a tyrant, a dictator and based upon his record in office, incapable of turning the tide for Venezuela’s collapse. But it is the job of the people of Venezuela to manage their government, either through elections or revolutions. This is not the role of the United States.
When a nation’s leader, no matter how corrupt and incompetent he might be, is overthrown by uprising and the assistance of other countries – we are not witnessing a transition of power or even a revolution but a coup. We have seen this game played out before, most recently in Egypt during the so-called Arab Spring. It did not end well.
While we might overlook hypocritical arguments of United States’ support for democratic values and power being trampled here, there is a deeper reality at stake. The people of Venezuela should realize that historically, from Iran, to Syria, to Congo, to Guatemala, US involvement in coups have always served the interests of the US economy and policy. And these interests have rarely coincided with the interests of the locals.
Learn more about the background to the Crisis in Venezuela in my Venezuela Crisis Backgrounder
My Patreon subscribers can enjoy this two part podcast on the origins of the Crisis in Venezuela, originally published in 2016.
What Is Going On In Venezuela
Venezuela is collapsing. There is no other way to describe this reality.
Many news outlets and commentators will explain this collapse is the result of socialist policies. Such assertions are incorrect. The causes of Venezuela’s collapse are much more complex than a failed experiment with socialism. More dominant issues of corruption and incompetence in the Chavez regime that preceded Maduro (and has continued with him) are to blame.
(Note: When you hear a media outlet routinely explaining how Venezuela’s collapse is the result of socialist policies, you can rest assured the media outlet is echoing official US policy.)
Venezuela took on huge amounts of debt during the oil boom years in the early 2000s. As the oil markets nosedived beginning in 2008, the government could no longer afford its debt or the programs that were established upon those debts. To make matters worse, investments into better infrastructure for economic output were never established during the boom years.
Similar pictures can be traced across much of the developing oil producing world today. Corrupt and incompetent governments took on enormous debt when oil prices were high. When oil prices tanked, the economies of these nations tanked as well. In the wake of this economic devastation are failing states and widespread civil unrest. Venezuela is only one of many tragic stories that sprang from this same set of causes.
- Since Maduro has been the president of Venezuela the country’s economy has shrunk by 50%.
- Last year inflation in the country hit 1 million percent. That is unprecedented in modern economic history.
- Economists at the International Monetary Fund have forecasted this year inflation will continue to skyrocket to 10 million percent.
- The healthcare system in Venezuela has collapsed.
- Grocery store shelves are empty.
- There is a massive escape plan being carried out by the people of Venezuela who can afford to leave. More than 1.6 million citizens of the country have fled Venezuela as this crisis has unfolded.
- A new study from the Brookings Institution says we are very likely to see another 5 million refugees seeking to escape the collapsing state of Venezuela in the next year.
In 2017 widespread uprisings against the Maduro government brought a violent and oppressive response from his regime. As a result many of the leading opponents to Maduro have fled the country to neighboring states. This flight took place largely among the middle class.
In recent weeks, since Maduro’s 2019 inauguration, new protests against the government have filled the streets. These protesters are largely from the nation’s poorer communities. The reelection of Maduro to the presidency is largely cited as a fraudulent election. Turnout at the polls was extremely low. Many believe that voters have lost hope any real change can come from the democratic process and therefore did not even bother to vote.
Evidence of US Involvement
The US has long been opposed to the Maduro regime and Chavez before him. This stance has been held since the early years of George W. Bush and consistently to President Trump. In early 2018 former officers of Venezuela’s military met with the Trump administration to discuss a potential coup. Nothing came of this at the time.
In recent months the threat of Venezuela’s collapse to US interests has become more significant as both China and Russia and have leveraged the crisis to increase their footprint in the western hemisphere.
- Last summer Chinese hospital ships docked in Venezuela to help with their collapsed healthcare system.
- The Chinese invested $250 million in Venezuela’s oil industry last summer and there were hints that much more investment was coming.
- Cash bailouts from Russia have been exchanged for access to Venezuela’s oil in recent months.
- The Russians recently made a $6 billion pledge to Venezuela.
- In recent weeks Russia has sent two nuclear capable bombers to Venezuela.
This level of involvement and interference with two major US power competitors stands in direct opposition to all former US policies that have protected and isolated the western hemisphere. In the past, no foreign powers were allowed to involve themselves in the western hemisphere without the blessings of the United States. The growing footprint of both China and Russia in this collapsing states that has enormous geopolitical and strategic value can only be seen as a threat.
Meanwhile, US Senator Marco Rubio has taken a very aggressive stance toward Venezuela and the Maduro regime. He has practically live tweeted the recent coup.
What’s Wrong with the US Helping Venezuela?
This is the question you might be asking yourself as you look upon this situation. Venezuela is collapsing. It is quickly becoming a regional danger. The people are suffering. Why shouldn’t the US become involved as the world’s leading superpower and defender of democracy.
An interesting parallel to what is going on in Venezuela is the current status of Sudan. Widespread protests and uprisings have been ongoing for the last month. The president is a corrupt tyrant who has ruled for decades. He is responding with violence and oppression against the uprising.
Why is there no US backed coup in Sudan? Why is the US not backing any individuals who have declared themselves a more legitimate leader of Sudan than the sitting ruler? What is different in Sudan than in Venezuela?
The difference is US interests. The US does not support coups and revolutions for the sake of democracy, peace, or human rights. It supports them for the sake of US interests. That is why, in nearly every nation where the US has supported a coup since 1945, the local people resent the interfering hand of the United States today.
What Happens Next…
The effectiveness of the coup in Venezuela will rest not upon the personality of Juan Guaido or upon mounting US pressure. It will depend upon how the Venezuelan military responds. So far the military has declared itself loyal to Maduro.
Juan Guaido, the self-declared President recognized by the US as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela, is in hiding. Maduro has ordered the US diplomats out of the country. China and Russia have condemned US support of the coup. The situation is escalating into what could grow into a civil war – although it is very unlikely that the US will come to the military aid of those the Trump administration has vocalized support for.
Even if the optimal US preference was to take shape – Maduro steps down and Guaido assumes leadership in a non-violent coup/revolution – the problems of Venezuela remain. The removal of Nicolas Maduro alone will not cure the systemic issues of Venezuela. Massive debts, loans and assistance from the international community will be required to heal Venezuela’s economy. Even if the international community were willing to do this, and so far they are not, the people of Venezuela may not be prepared for the costs of such external interference in their economy and society.
The coup in Venezuela is neither the solution nor the end to Venezuela’s problems. At best we are simply entering a new phase of the Venezuela crisis.