The US’s decision to recognize 35-year-old Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president is the latest step by the Trump administration in helping to liberate Venezuelans from Nicolás Maduro’s rule. Shortly after Trump’s announcement, a string of other Latin American governments followed suit, sparking speculation that Hugo Chávez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ may finally be coming to an end.
In reality, such a move will do little to achieve the broader objective of removing Maduro from office. This is because he still commands the loyalty of most high-ranking military officials, many of whom were appointed because of their support for the government. As a result, the military continues to act as the regime’s principal repressive apparatus against political opponents, while guaranteeing Maduro’s grip on power.
On Wednesday, Trump reaffirmed his position that ‘all options are on the table’ for removing Maduro, including the possibility of a military intervention. Proponents of the ‘military option,’ which include Florida senator Marco Rubio, believe that the US should form a military coalition with new right-wing, anti-Maduro governments in Brazil and Colombia tasked with removing him from power. Although the idea may horrify opponents of America’s interventionist foreign policy and large sections of Trump’s base, it is one that is being increasingly discussed in Washington.
Up until now, the Trump administration has pursued a strategy of ‘maximum pressure,’ against Maduro, through the use of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. While this approach has undoubtedly weakened the country’s dire economic predicament, it has so far proved ineffective. The strategy for such a significant operation would need to be carefully considered, but there is little doubt that Maduro and the military would quickly capitulate, or face the likely prospect of a humiliating defeat.
As I previously noted in Spectator USA, such an operation could be conducted on grounds of national security (the US recently revealed it is considering designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terror.) There is also a strong humanitarian argument. Under Maduro, millions of Venezuelans are living without adequate food and medicine. According to a recent study by Brookings Institute, 8.2 million Venezuelans will flee the homeland over the next 10 years, many of whom will be in need of humanitarian assistance.
Historically, the United States has had far greater success with regime change in Latin America than the Middle East, beginning with Henry Kissinger’s anti-communist ‘Operation Condor,’ and most recently the US’s ultimately successful invasion of Panama. In securing the Venezuelan people’s freedom from a brutal dictatorship, Trump could secure a foreign policy victory that the Venezuelan people, and the continent as a whole, should be forever grateful for.