Venezuela has descended into chaos. Inflation, which has run rampant in the past couple of years, is hard to measure, but estimates place it around 33,000 percent, and some have projected it to exceed 1,000,000 percent by the end of this year alone. Regardless of the exact value, Venezuela’s current economic crisis rivals some of the worst in modern history, on par with 1920s Germany and 2000s Zimbabwe. Over 90 percent of the country’s population currently lives in poverty, a truly incomprehensible figure given that Venezuela was one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America in the 1970s.
Amids the disarray, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro clings to power in Caracas and has given no indication that he intends to surrender his office anytime soon. The corruption and incompetence of Maduro’s regime, which created the crisis in the first place, will certainly prevent any significant reform that could help alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people. And thus, the conversation has turned to the fickle subject of regime change — one which the United States is perhaps best versed in.
A year ago, President Trump ominously remarked that a military option was on the table in regards to Venezuela. Few at the time took him seriously, however, the rapid deterioration of conditions in the country has revived the question. Regime change has become a sort of four-letter word in American politics due to the failed U.S. missions in recent memory in Iraq and Afghanistan which created more problems than they solved. Yet despite this, some argue that a military intervention might be necessary.
Marco Rubio, who previously had been against military action in Venezuela, recently stated that there was a “very strong argument” that Venezuela is quickly becoming a security threat for the United States and Latin America, which may necessitate military action. Venezuelan expatriate Daniel Di Martino takes this position one step further, arguing that an American-led military intervention in Venezuela would be beneficial to all parties involved as it would help restore the Venezuelan economy and create an unprecedented economic miracle.
Yet, skeptics far outnumber the hawks, as is to be expected given the recent track record of military-backed regime change. Doug Bandow, an American political writer, dismissed Di Martino’s optimism, simply writing that “it is a terrible argument.” Bandow denounced the Clausewitzian perception of war as merely being policy by other means, arguing that “Military action, no matter how well-intentioned, is often indiscriminate in effect,” and therefore ought to be avoided as an instrument of foreign policy.
Robert Moore, an opinion writer, perhaps articulated this position most poetically, stating that “American forces pulling ashore outside Caracas would be more likely to turn a brush fire into a blazing inferno than create economic prosperity and rule of law.
Moreover, the Latin American nations most directly threatened by Venezuela’s disorder are wary of a prolonged American military presence so close to home. The Lima Group, which is a body of several Latin American countries plus Canada designed to help find solutions to the ensuing crisis in Venezuela, issued a statement in August rejecting the use of military intervention as a means to resolve the conflagration. In the statement, the Lima Group reiterated that “… only Venezuelans can find a solution to the grave crisis affecting their country.”
While it may be comforting to hear that the nations of the Americas, sans the United States, are considering non-military methods of resolving the crisis, the Lima Group’s statement rings hollow given that they essentially deferred all responsibility to the Venezuelans, who are clearly in no state to do much of anything for the foreseeable future. Trump’s admittedly ambiguous suggestion of military intervention — while surely a terrible idea that would create a quagmire which the United States would not be able to retreat from for years, if not decades — is at the very least a substantive suggestion.
Regime change has become a toxic term in recent years, but it doesn’t have to be. Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard economist, insisted that a resolution to the crisis in Venezuela is “contingent on regime change.” While Maduro and the Socialists stay in power, the situation in Venezuela will continue to deteriorate, which will place a burden on all of Venezuela’s neighbors who will be forced to deal with increasing numbers of refugees pouring across the border.
If the Lima Group wishes to avoid a humanitarian crisis like the one still unfolding in Syria, substantive, non-military solutions will need to be proposed and implemented. They will need to demonstrate that international cooperation can supplant military intervention as a valid method of crisis resolution and regime change.