Venezuela: The Military Option

The speech by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, was one of the most aggressive and intimidating ever uttered by any leader in this setting.

Correspondents from multiple media outlets already had information on the topics the president would address in his speech: the North Korean threat, the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement and human rights in Cuba. These were to be noteworthy matters for consideration. However, the mention of Venezuela (originally unplanned) and the clear warmongering details surprised many.

Trump threatened to destroy North Korea to pre-empt an eventual attack on the U.S. or its allies, described the Cuban regime as corrupt and unbalanced, and in an emphatic manner, condemned the government of Nicolas Maduro, referencing the suffering and sorrow the Venezuelan population has endured because of Maduro’s socialist model, not without showing a clear change of course with respect to the U.S. approach to the Venezuelan crisis. Between the lines, one could read how unfortunate the initial declaration on Aug. 11 had been, through which the North American head of state wielded the possibility of leaning toward a “military option” to restore democratic order to the South American country. Surely, there was a group of experts who would have wisely advised the man in the White House after he condemned governments around the world.

Immediately after Trump’s mention of an initiative of force, the effects were felt in Caracas, which reacted with a grandiose declaration and the deployment of weapons and troops to strategic zones within the country, in addition to the filming of videos with images of citizens being trained by the armed forces.

If Pope Francis gave oxygen to Maduro’s regime to promote government opposition during the autocrat’s most critical moment (the popular protests in September 2016), Trump unintentionally followed suit by putting the Venezuelan dictator in a position where he became a “victim of imperialism,” deflecting attention from the Venezuelan government’s severe human rights violations and toward the traditional and convenient narrative of being a communist sympathizer facing imperial aggression. This not only contributed to the weakening of the blockade against the Castro-Chavista regime, but it also polarized the international community, among which there are those who condemned the prospect of U.S. military intervention, and those who expressed silent complicity.

While the Trump administration seems to have changed its strategy and recognized its grave error by presenting the option of military action against Venezuela, such a premise isn’t an unfeasible scenario from the point of view of the Hans J. Morgenthau political realism doctrine (where national interest is defined in terms of power). This conceptual framework in the U.S. case has its pragmatic expression in the National Security Doctrine, a body of ideas and actions suggested in the context of the Cold War, according to which any threat toward the United States represented an action in favor of the enemy of the country (then the USSR) and thereby should be rebuffed by means of direct military action to destabilize communist regimes. The U.S. Army School of the Americas was crucial for complying with these objections; it was a CIA center for the training of Latin American and Caribbean armed forces, with the goal of containing communism in the countries on that continent. *

It was this logic that gave way to Operation Urgent Fury (1983), a U.S. military invasion of the island of Granada following the country’s strategic alliance with the Soviet Union and Cuba, and the coup by Hudson Austin, who was seen as a clear threat to North American interests in the region. The attacks on civilian targets, such as the airport and a psychiatric hospital, with hundreds of victims and millions of dollars in lost materials, are comparable only to the humiliating tutelage to which the Grenadian state would be subjected for years out of a fear that Granada would be converted into a second Cuba.

Operation Just Cause (1989), was a U.S. military attack on Panama intended to unseat dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. It resulted in 3,000 deaths and 20,000 families losing their housing, with losses of more than $2 million which was never compensated.

The occupation of Haiti (2004) deserves special mention for its part in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti – known as MINUSTAH – campaign. The campaign was thought to be criminal, but it continues after 13 years. It was initiated under the pretext of pacifying the island after the exit of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s forces and extended as a “humanitarian mission” after the devastating earthquake of 2010. The human rights violations perpetrated by the Blue Helmets (United Nations international forces) range from assassinations, sexual abuse, drug trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced disappearances, which occurred in addition to the outbreak of cholera that affected more than 800,000 people.

Using North American logic, the containment of Castro-Chavism, seen as the focus of destabilization for Latin America and as a platform for drug smuggling and Islamic extremism on the continent, is a strategic foreign policy imperative. The fact that the United States on its own doesn’t take any warlike action doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be any military intervention, as the Haiti case demonstrates well.

Seen through the prism of international law, the mere threat of the use of force by a state violates the fundamental principles established in various international treaties and agreements. Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, for example, establishes procedures for conflict resolution that haven’t yet been explored in the Venezuelan situation.

The desperation caused by the absence of a politically negotiated exit from the Venezuelan crisis, as a result of the abduction of state institutions by the government – fundamentally the armed forces – and the process of radicalization of the Bolivarian Revolution, has generated, in some sectors of public opinion, sympathy for the prospect of foreign military intervention as a solution for the population’s urgent problems. Such a position is not only despicable, from any point of view, but also dangerously reckless.

It is important, then, to confront (in the reported cases above and many more) those who, from the most irresponsible and superficial Hollywood vision about “marine heroes liberating poor oppressed countries,” promote a military adventure in Venezuela. The models in which the cure was worse than the illness are very painful and close, and generate political, humanitarian and economic distortions that in many cases still linger.

Recent measures that prohibit the entry of senior Venezuelan officials and their families into the United States, the growing list of sanctions – like those by the Canadian government that prevent a list of associates of the Venezuelan dictator from doing business in its territory – and the growing international isolation of Maduro’s regime, are, in our opinion, wiser and more effective actions than a military raid, the costs of which would translate into a catastrophic humanitarian crisis that would affect the Venezuelan population more than the Castro-Chavist regime in power.

*Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army School of the Americas is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

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