The West and Venezuela – A Crisis of Intervention
The situation in Venezuela has rapidly deteriorated since the beginning of 2019 after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the legitimate president by invoking the country’s constitution in a bid to oust Nicolás Maduro. Maduro regards himself as the rightful president after achieving re-election last year, despite opposition parties boycotting the vote because of alleged rigging. Many support Mr Guaidó’s bid for power and have protested against the government in recent months in hopes of forcing change. However, there has been very little success, and Mr Guaidófailed attempts to coerce the military to join him have prompted questions over whether change will ever come.
With a population of 31.5 million, Venezuela is a country that has benefitted significantly from their vast oil resources over recent decades. Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998 with the intention of lifting millions of Venezuelans out of poverty by redistributing oil revenues and investing in social programmes. This was helped by the rise in oil prices after 2004 which allowed such programmes to be created and expenditure to increase with it. However, falling oil prices have exposed an economy that is heavily dependent on oil and little else, and Chavez’ death in 2013 led to Maduro’s rise to power which has only brought further complications as corruption and inefficiency plagues the nation and its ability to function. Because of this, millions of Venezuelans demand change, but change has not come. Maduro has consolidated his power over the past few years by suppressing political opposition, limiting the power of the National Assembly, the legislative branch of Venezuela, and keeping key factions on side such as the security forces. All of this has left most of the country in a dire state. 94% of Venezuelans live in poverty according to the UN, while unemployment is forecasted to hit 44% by the end of the year. Crime rates are among the highest in the world, and debt has reached over $100bn. It is no surprise then to see that 3 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014 for countries such as Ecuador and Peru.
So, what can be done about the situation? Already, the country has become the victim of a proxy war between various countries competing for influence – such as the United States, China, Russia, and more localised powers like Cuba. Therefore, it is likely that ulterior motives are in play and the interests of Venezuelans on the ground are not the primary focus. Access to oil resources and establishing friendly regime change are on the agendas of these countries. This explains why most western nations have opted to back Mr Guaidóas the rightful president, while China and Russia have declared support for Mr Maduro. The approach is quickly becoming similar to that of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya because of the ulterior motives mixed in with the distorted message of humanitarian interventionism.
In reality, what should be done is crossing off military interventionism as an option, in particular from the United States. Diplomacy must be at the forefront, hence why there should be a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Elections need to be held immediately without fear of suppression or reprisals from the acting government, and a new government needs to be established with the interests of Venezuelans at heart, not the interests of outsiders. Sanctions need to be lifted, and there needs to be a new economic model that significantly reduces dependency on oil as the main source of revenue. However, the crisis will not go away for some time, regardless of the solution. This has been building for years and changing an economy will no doubt take a few more years to complete. If the west wants to get involved, do so by sending aid instead of guns to engineer violent regime change that serves their own interests. We must avoid another Iraq.
Header image by Gabriel Cruz