LET'S HAVE A (PROXY) WAR!
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a feckless demagogue who stole the last election and subverted the will of the voters. And also, the United States should not be overthrowing Latin American leaders, rejiggering the country's oil wealth so it flows in our direction, and installing a friendly government in the Palacio de Miraflores. No, not even if National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó might well win a free and fair election if it were held today. Two things can be true at once.
Donald Trump has wanted to invade Venezuela since forever. He explicitly threatened to send in US troops in August 2017, and a month later he huddled up with the leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Panama to magnanimously offer the United States' services, saying, "Rex [Tillerson] tells me you don't want me to use the military option in Venezuela. [...] Is that right? Are you sure?" Strangely Latin American leaders declined the generous offer of a US-sponsored coup on their doorsteps.
Which is not to say that the Maduro regime isn't a disaster. As we wrote 18 months ago:
Ten years ago Venezuela had a strong, charismatic leader and oil was close to $100 per barrel. Now Hugo Chavez is dead, his successor Nicolás Maduro is wildly unpopular, oil is bumping along at about $50, and Venezuela's annual inflation rate is 2,000%. There are widespread food shortages, and the average citizen has lost close to 20 lbs on the "Maduro Diet." The ruling Socialist party is trying to maintain its hold on power by jailing political opponents. And the streets are filled with protesters, with over one hundred dead and hundreds more injured in police crackdowns.
Since then, things have only gotten worse, with over a million Venezuelans fleeing the country, China and Russia muscling in on the country's oil infrastructure as their loans come due, inflation hitting 13,000 PERCENT annually, and Maduro rigging the election last May to maintain his hold on power with help of the army. This is a humanitarian catastrophe.
And this right here is an OP-SEC catastrophe.
Either John Bolton, who gave a speech in November describing Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba as a "Troika of Tyranny," is into some weird doodling, or we're about to park 5,000 troops in Colombia to overthrow the Maduro regime. Which is great, because the US has never interfered in Latin America and will doubtless be welcomed as liberators. Well except for that time in Panama. Oh, and Guatemala, too. Plus Honduras, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador and whatever it is we're supposed to have been accomplishing for the past 50 years in Cuba. Anyway, they all totally love us there and will be just as happy as those Iraqis were to have our tanks roll down their streets.
And, not to put to fine a point on it, but ...
Thanks, Senator! But before we get to the coup-ing, first we're going to do a little Trump-style diplomacy. Last week, Guaidó declared himself the acting president, and the White House immediately recognized him as the country's legitimate ruler. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Panama, much of western Europe, and Israel followed suit. Maduro ordered US diplomatic personnel to leave the country, and the US ordered them to stay and liaise with the new Guaidó government. Then yesterday the US announced it would seize $7 billion in assets belonging to the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A (PDVSA) and prevent revenue from Venezuelan-owned Citgo from being repatriated to South America. We'll starve the Maduro regime -- and the Venezuelan people -- of cash until they install the leader we like. Which is ... problematic, even if you accept that Maduro is extraordinarily dangerous and anti-democratic.
Lucky thing we've made it clear we're not just nakedly trying to steal Venezuela's oil.
Meanwhile, Russia and China have lined up squarely behind the Maduro regime, backed up by their allies in Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iran, Syria, Turkey and the Palestinian territories. You don't really have to squint too hard to make out the parameters of a nice little proxy war in our own back yard. Hooray!
But Russia and China's support has its limits. They're not going to be left holding the bag on all that money they loaned the Venezuelan government. Rosneft's Igor Sechin (yes, the same one involved in the Trump Russia fuckery!) flew to Caracas in November to remind the Maduro government that the Russian government advanced Venezuela $17 billion since 2006 and he needs to keep pumping those in-kind payments out of the ground no matter what. China has similarly turned off the loan tap and is cracking its knuckles menacingly over the country's $20 billion outstanding debt.
So, this is all going GREAT. Anyway, don't worry, because we have the finest diplomatic hands on duty in the White House. Little Marco and the National Security Mustache are on the case!
(Yeah, we're fucked.)
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