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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

How to respond to the crisis in Venezuela

How to respond to the crisis in Venezuela

Maintaining stability key when dealing with Venezuela

Venezuela is in turmoil. The nation is facing a humanitarian, political, and economic crisis all at once. It wasn’t long ago that the country was a role model to democratic socialist states all around the world, but now under President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has descended into disorder and widespread misery.

Maduro’s centrist opponent, Juan Guaido, has claimed the presidency. Now, most of the Western Hemisphere is ready to install him as the legitimate leader. They are within their right to, but they need to be cautious.

If we examine the situation along with its possible solutions, it becomes clear: deposing Maduro is a worthy cause, but there are many ways in which it could go seriously wrong.

Economically, Maduro inherited the flawed but widely admired economic system shaped by Hugo Chavez, and made it worse. Chavez’s system entailed massive amounts of spending on social programs and small, citizen-run businesses. All of this was funded by the profits of the state-run oil company, back when oil was scarce and expensive.

By the time Chavez died and Maduro took over, oil prices and government funds were plummeting and Maduro’s main response was to somehow spend more.

This drove up the state’s debt, but also resulted in inflation, with the Venezuelan government literally printing money it didn’t have to spend on programs it couldn’t afford.

Eventually the country lost foreign investors, imposed price controls, faced ghastly food shortages, and collapsed as a society. Hunger refugees streamed out of the country, deathly skinny because of the dieta Maduro, or Maduro diet. Maduro inherited boundless control over his country’s economy and used it to destroy every sector of it unapologetically.

And now, he still wants to lead. In response to his own failures, he has clung violently to power. From the outset of his presidency, Maduro has overseen shady elections, blamed his opponents for power outages he ordered and used emergency economic powers to strangle private business.

As opposition grew, Maduro imprisoned his main opponents, packed the Supreme Court with supporters and allowed police to gun down protesters.

Flash forward to today and it’s clear Maduro has failed at being both a democratic leader and socialist leader. His rule is a strong argument for checks and balances and against centrally-planned economies.

Maduro is a tyrant, plain and simple. The world’s democracies should absolutely find an effective way to remove him from office.

But that’s where things get complicated. Removing Maduro and replacing him with someone better is a tricky, multi-step process with any number of risks along the way.

Venezuela doesn’t have the characteristics to do so, especially in the wake of Maduro’s regime of crackdowns. Without checks on executive  power, there’s a strong risk that Maduro’s successor will have the same opportunity to become a dictator.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan society is divided. The state is polarized by ethnicity, class and lifestyle. Socialism is still broadly popular but so are many other political ideologies.

Add in the military and a stream of “ifs” start to point to civil war. If Maduro can rally supporters, if he can’t rally many, if the military advances their own leader and so on, things could turn even more violent overnight.

Regardless of what exactly happens within Venezuela, other countries in the region pose problems of their own. Colombia is coping with the end of its own long civil strife. Instability in the region could undermine Colombia’s progress towards peace.

Worse, Brazil’s right-wing government looms over Venezuela’s crisis. If the situation in Venezuela turns violent, Brazil’s military would inevitably play a role and President Jair Bolsonaro could have the chance to grab more power for himself.

Venezuela’s foreign patrons have a stake in the situation as well. During Chavez’s reign, two of his biggest oil buyers were Russia and China. As Maduro’s government has spiralled, those two have kept a close watch; just a few days ago, Russia sent mercenary troops to support Maduro. Ultimately, Russia and China will support whoever can get them access to oil. While that option is Maduro, we still have  reasons to worry.

Finally, the biggest foreign wildcard in Venezuela is the United States. In the absence of a president with a strong foreign policy vision, America’s policy is being determined by the angriest of conservatives.

National Security Advisor John Bolton is a strong supporter of Guaido, which is great, except that John Bolton is best known for wanting to invade every country he does not like. The new special envoy to Venezuela is Elliot Abrams, who helped plan the overthrow of Manuel Noriega of Panama in 1989.

Also thirsty for regime change are sens. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, who have repeatedly floated the idea of military intervention in Venezuela.

For Americans, the worst case scenario is becoming bogged down in a war in Venezuela, supporting a moderate who won’t be able to maintain stability, all asregional and global pressures meddle and interact. America has drained its military in costly wars for 18 years for wars that still aren’t over.

The best course of action in Venezuela would be to have the military break from Maduro and apply as much diplomatic pressure as possible to install Guaido.

With this, the military would support free elections and programs to support civil society so that the people of Venezuela can get a real choice in their leadership. Venezuela isn’t a lost cause, but it isn’t a problem I trust Trump, Bolton, and Bolsonaro to solve.

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