Mon, Oct 01, 2018 - Page 7 News List

What Venezuela’s crisis has revealed

By Richard Haass

The New York Times recently reported that US President Donald Trump’s administration had held meetings with rebellious Venezuelan military officers who were plotting to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

In the end, US policymakers backed off the idea; but, not surprisingly, the reaction to the article was mostly negative.

To be sure, there are good reasons to oppose a US-supported coup in Venezuela. Many of those likely to be involved would have unsavory reputations, given their ties to the drug trade and their record of human-rights violations.

A coup would almost certainly fail, giving an already repressive government a new justification to crack down on its opponents.

Another option would be an armed intervention led by Venezuela’s neighbors.

They are adversely affected by the flow of refugees, which already numbers 2 million to 4 million and is growing at a rate of 50,000 to 100,000 per month.

If these countries took the lead, they would not have the political baggage of a US-led military operation.

However, this scenario, too, can be ruled out, owing to the regional bias against military interventions and the fact that Venezuela’s neighbors lack the means to carry one out.

Venezuela is roughly twice the size of Iraq, has as many as 100,000 armed citizens, and is riddled with Cuban intelligence officers assisting the regime. Intervention would not be a cakewalk.

Critics of intervention favor imposing additional sanctions on top officials.

This is warranted, but there is no reason to believe that doing so will be decisive, especially with China providing massive amounts of credit with no strings attached.

A second suggestion, to provide meaningful support to refugees, would be expensive; admitting more is not a realistic option for many countries, and such policies address symptoms, not their cause.

Venezuela’s future is bleak. The economy has shrunk by half in the last five years; oil production is down by a similar percentage. Infrastructure is crumbling. Inflation is approaching 1 million percent.

Poverty is prevalent in a country that once was among the region’s wealthiest and sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves. Crime is rampant, the healthcare system is broken, and hunger is widespread.

Maduro, who recently gained a second six-year term as president in what most observers judged to be a sham election, has created a new constituent assembly (to bypass the opposition-controlled National Assembly) that is writing a new constitution that would further cement dictatorship.

There are reports of arbitrary arrests and torture.

I keep returning to a question I have raised publicly and in private in recent months: How much worse do things in Venezuela have to become before the world would be prepared to act? How many more people must lose their lives? How many more must become refugees?

To such questions there seem to be no answer, but at some point, avoiding them becomes untenable. Denial is not a strategy.

In the meantime, though, we have clarity on at least three matters:

First, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted in 2005, in response to the world’s inaction as nearly 1 million men, women, and children were slaughtered in Rwanda, is essentially dead.

China and Russia have stopped supporting it after the Western intervention in Libya in 2011, having come to view R2P as a pretext for regime change.

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