In a press conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course, President Donald Trump did not parse words when addressing the possibility of future military intervention in Venezuela.
“I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump told reporters when asked about the situation in the South American country. “Venezuela is a mess.”
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary,” he said.
Trump is correct in his assessment that Venezuela is a mess. Its economy is said to have shrunken more than Syria’s in 2016. Under Hugo Chavez’s Socialist understudy, President Nicolas Maduro, inflation last year was out of control. The 720% increase was double that of the war-torn South Sudan. Venezuela’s citizens have reported involuntary weight loss averaging 19 pounds a year due to government-controlled food sources producing too little to adequately feeds its citizens.
All of Venezuela’s social catastrophes unfold under the present threat of martial law, with the government owning virtually all of the country’s guns, using the arsenal to silence dissenters and opposition groups. In late July, Maduro expanded his powers, essentially rewriting the Venezuelan Constitution through a vote that the global community regards as illegitimate. Maduro continues to insulate himself from political opposition by changing the rules of the game, with the Venezuelan military acting as his personal militia.
But America’s president has no interest in contributing to Venezuela’s further descent into a failed dictatorial Socialist state, or even talking to Maduro on the phone:
‘The White House later said that Mr. Maduro on Friday, before Mr. Trump made his remarks, had requested a call with the U.S. president. Mr. Trump refused the request, citing Mr. Maduro’s steps that the U.S. has characterized as “the path of dictatorship,” the White House said.’ (WSJ)
The White House added this comment, indicating that Maduro’s socialist regime consistently acts against the interests of the Venezuelan people. 140 citizens have been killed by government forces in the past four months, and the Trump administration has made clear it backs those who oppose the Maduro regime:
‘“The United States stands with the people of Venezuela in the face of their continued oppression by the Maduro regime. President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country,” the White House said.’
In apparent response, Maduro made a speech which included a direct message to Trump:
“If he is so interested in Venezuela, here I am,” Mr. Maduro said Thursday. “Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand,” also suggesting that the two men meet when Maduro visits New York next month for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.
The apparent attempt to reach out is an odd move for the man who has routinely criticized America and Trump specifically, portraying the United States as a nation whose intervention in Venezuela and other countries designates it as an “imperial power.” Maduro’s comments ring like many other dictators in failed states, who blame their self-created ills on foreign intervention in domestic affairs.
‘“With Donald Trump, a dangerous class of lobbyists, multimillionaires and extreme right-wingers reached the presidency, capturing all of the positions of power in the government,” Mr. Maduro said. “Today, they are threatening world peace.”’
It is the same rhetoric that helped get his socialist predecessor Huge Chavez elected primarily by Venezuela’s substantial population of poor, who are often farmers by trade. But as Venezuela’s many crises continue to worsen, these denigrating words will only garner a heightened response from President Trump.
When it comes to confronting adversarial world leaders who invoke America’s name in a negative context, Trump seems determined to match strength with strength. In the case of Maduro, Trump’s honesty may result in some level of unintended benefit for Maduro’s domestic image. According to some, the President’s comments may lend some truth to Chavez and Maduro’s frequently repeated propaganda line that the United States is somehow scheming to overthrow the Socialist government. While this was long an unfounded assertion, some believe Trump’s consideration of military intervention in Venezuela lends credence to Maduro’s assertion.
‘“This is made to order for Maduro,” said David Smilde, a specialist on Latin America and Venezuela at Tulane University. “Domestically, this will lead to 24/7 state media coverage. It could lead to heightened state of alert in the military and perhaps more repression of the opposition. All of these things are under way, but it provides an even more conducive environment for it.”’
At a time when increasing numbers of neighboring South American countries have turned their backs on the Maduro regime, some fear that lingering fears of America’s imperial past in South America could motivate some to once again embrace Maduro in the name of South American unity. Still, most can see that Venezuela is in shambles, and that potential aggression against Maduro would not be a precedent of American intervention in the region.
Many opposition parties in Venezuela will never again support a socialist regime and see military force as the only means to overthrow the tyrannical government.
‘“This government has ruined us, has destroyed this country. I don’t see this [military] option as bad as long as this government goes,” said Angelica Azuaje, an architect from a Caracas suburb of Los Teques.’
Some have posited that Trump’s comments are meant to serve as a precursor to further economic sanctions against Venezuela, whose economy is already in a choke-hold. Should the global community see American military intervention in Venezuela as a serious possibility, they may be more likely to agree to further sanctions as a half-measure. With prominent global figures including British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn still refusing to condemn the Maduro regime, such prodding may be necessary.
The hope is that Venezuela does not follow in the footsteps of North Korea, raising the stakes in the now-publically contentious relationship with the United States. Maintaining some level of accord, particularly as the North Korean conflict reaches the brink, should be the White House’s aim, at least for now.