By James Bouffard
Nicolas Maduro’s six-year tenure as the president of Venezuela has been marked by catastrophic starvation, disease, hyperinflation and political unrest. These problems have produced an influx of three million refugees into the surrounding countries and created a regional crisis.
While the causes of Venezuela’s ailments are complex, Maduro has greatly exacerbated them in a variety of ways. He illegitimized the government through extrajudicial killings and attempted to dissolve the legislature in a sham reelection. He has also continued to print money excessively to compensate for deficits. This unimaginative and disastrous solution has further worsened the Venezuelan economy.
Given these factors, the self-proclaimed presidency of the opposition leader, Juan Guido, on Jan. 23 seems promising, and the Trump administration’s recognition of his nascent “government” indicates an American-backed regime change is more likely than ever. However, similar actions in the past have produced nothing but despotism and failed to improve the lives of ordinary people.
Disastrous examples of American intervention in the region could be listed off ad nauseam. Our government has installed and subsequently aided “caudillos” who violently repress all opposition. These include Anastasio Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua, Carlos Castillo Armas in Guatemala and numerous members of the Brazilian military. The brutality of such governments cannot be ignored.
For example, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in 1973 with the help of the United States, was known for throwing political opponents out of helicopters after slicing their stomachs open. There is no reason to believe it would be any different this time.
An American backed regime change will also fail to address many underlying causes of Venezuela’s problems. The most notable among these is a dependence on oil. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries estimated that this one product accounted for 98 percent of the country’s export revenue. This has produced crises before, such as riots in 1992. A new regime must develop a more multifaceted economy, but, historically, the U.S. has always fostered policies in the region that are tailored to American interests and never work for the benefit of the people. Examples of this include Chile’s radical deregulation, the 1954 Guatemala Coup to protect the United Fruit Company and Washington Consensus’ neoliberal reforms.
Second, China, Russia and Turkey have publically supported Maduro. A Venezuelan government led by Juan Guido will be considered illegitimate by many world powers and may never grow beyond a mere puppet of American interests. This may present international repercussions for the U.S., as well. Hence, any effort to support regime change in Venezuela should be vigorously opposed. It will not create a free and democratic nation or a stable, self-sufficient society. Rather, the plight of the Venezuelan people will be worsened through the further involvement of a ravaging and hegemonic power.