Clarifying the unique situation in Venezuela
In response to those who think that the current situation in Venezuela is a re-run of Chile in 1973, when the dictator Pinochet came to power, there are a number of things to keep in mind.
First, it’s true that Venezuela has huge amounts of oil, and this certainly keeps the country on the U.S.’s radar. However, the Maduro regime is also destabilizing the entire region. The millions of Venezuelans fleeing poverty amid the economic collapse of their country are severely straining the resources of Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, as well as putting pressure on Argentina and Chile. So basically, the whole region. This is not sustainable.
The main reason for Venezuela’s collapse is endemic, omnipresent corruption. Their leaders have looted the entire country, and now to keep filling their pockets, they’ve picked up the narcotics slack from Columbian drug lords. Also not sustainable.
Is Venezuela a democracy? Not really. They’ve been practicing a new spin on election rigging for some time. For instance, receiving welfare payments often requires proof of voting for the ruling party. Voting for the opposition is made difficult by eliminating the private vote, and pressure at the ballot box. Stuffing those ballot boxes with fraudulent votes for the ruling party is also common. And serious opposing candidates are barred from running (former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, among many others), jailed (popular politician Leopoldo Lopez), or if they win, have all of their power stripped away (the entire congress, as well as dozens of mayors and governors). For the ruling party, elections are made to be a case of heads I win, tails you lose, but they maintain the facade of democracy. Also not sustainable.
On Canada’s end, are we toeing the American line, or being principled? I think it’s more of the latter, since Trudeau has been the only leader outside Scandinavia willing to stand up to Saudi Arabia, the ultimate gravity centre for oil-focused diplomacy. So give him some credit.
There is no perfect response, but at least the opposition leader Guaidó is trying to follow the constitution, which was written by Chavez. Otherwise it’s hard to say when Venezuela will touch bottom. Taking military options off the table is important, but so is supporting the only man willing and able to stand up to a kleptocracy that controls the police, army and all levels of the courts and elections board.
As for those who say that a country’s internal problems shouldn’t be anyone’s business but its own, does this mean that it was right for the international community to leave countries like Rwanda, Bosnia and East Timor largely to their fates? Or should we hope for a more principled diplomatic line, one that could for instance start with the decades-long humanitarian disaster that is Congo? We might not be able to save the world, but if we can help at least a country or two, we’re still doing better than if we did nothing at all. Venezuela desperately needs help to loosen the stranglehold the corrupt regime has on its people. And that regime is extremely talented at dividing the opposition and staying on top by any dubious means available. The four years that I spent in the region helped me to understand how this show works.