The people of Venezuela are either dead, desperate or displaced. Since the rise of Hugo Chavez in 1999, and his odious replacement Nicholas Maduro in 2013, the country has witnessed a near unprecedented decline in living standards and safety. Its oil output has been decimated, despite sitting on the world’s largest reserves.
Now, Venezuela is at the crossroads. If Maduro’s government is not removed it will likely be able to further consolidate its power and crack down on dissent, probably through the use of violence. The recent elections were a sham, and Western governments are fast removing de jure recognition of Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. It is a propitious time for the CIA to back a covert action campaign, and the headwinds which previously tempered Western anger are dwindling.
These roadblocks were three fold. The first, as mentioned, was the legitimacy of the Maduro regime. Previously, despite their extemporaneous behaviour in the world community, Maduro and Chavez were the undeniably legitimate leaders of Venezuela. They were the victors of free and fair elections. The elections last year however, were farcical. The clearest evidence of this is in turnout – whereas almost 15 million Venezuelans voted in the 2013 presidential election, just 9 million officially voted last year. With Venezuela’s opposition boycotting the vote, independent groups estimate the actual turnout was around half of that number again. That would put turnout at just 20 per cent.
Clearly, Maduro is no longer legitimately elected, and his power, to quote Chairman Mao, comes from the barrel of a gun. The United States has tolerated many illegitimately elected leaders, but Mr Maduro is a different case. His government’s negligent policies are responsible for the deprivation and starvation of millions of people, and such is the capitulating state of Venezuela, what was once an internal problem has become a regional crisis. Some three million people have fled the country, most via Brazil or Colombia. It would be an understatement to say these two countries (and their government’s that sit a good deal to the right of centre), have a disdain for Venezuela and the problems it has brought to the region. Inaction will only exacerbate these issues. The biggest moral case for intervention is still domestic however – the suffering of the Venezuelan people which should not be tolerated by the world community.
The biggest headwind to covert action is something the United States has only learned through truly bitter experience in the 20th century. Simply, in replacing a leader, the most important consideration is who will replace them. The US State Department is all too aware of mistakes which have been made in the past in putting their faith in people who have gone on to become tin pot dictators. The only thing worse than Maduro – who is a negligent mass murderer – would be a malicious mass murderer, in the style of Augustin Pinochet (who, incidentally, came to power in a US backed coup). The US has thus far been hesitant to back any leaders in Venezuela for precisely this reason.
Enter Speaker of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaido. Mr Guaido has convinced the United States of his bona fides in several meetings with Vice President Mike Pence. The US deputy visited Venezuela to scope out opposition in the country. There is no doubt the state department will have spent a huge amount of time, energy and resources in checking the intentions of Mr Guaido and his background. At the very least, his calls for new elections rather than a violent overthrow of Maduro’s government show good intentions. This writer cannot properly evaluate whether Guaido is the right pick for the United States, given the secrecy surrounding this information, but given the outbreak of Western unity which has followed their decision, it would appear that even the most dovish allies are convinced of his abilities.
Increasingly it is looking as though Mr Maduro will not be taking an invitation to leave, and may have to be forced out, which brings in the final obstacle to CIA covert action, plausible deniability. The people of Venezuela are proudly independent. The original Bolivarian Revolution, led by Hugo Chavez, was both a rejection of American neoliberalism, as well as a rejection of American influence and culture itself. As such, any leader who is seen as having the United States as their naming rights sponsor is likely to see a sudden deflation in support. Previously, the mere association with America would be enough to derail popular support for would be leaders. Times have changed, and in their desperation, the people of Venezuela will likely tolerate some degree of American influence.
This influence cannot spread to being in charge of a coup however, and planners will tread carefully to hide the trail. Any assistance will be claimed to be monetary. The reality, and realpolitik, dictate that it could extend to anything from weapons to an outright private army for the Venezuelan separatists, depending on what the CIA thinks it can get away with. But with Maduro’s grip on the country loosening, via constant protests and a refugee crisis, the military is already very preoccupied with the survival of the regime. Suddenly, in the midst of the fog of war, plausible deniability appears possible. Self interested lower level military commanders could also be convinced to join a coup – but should have a large buyer beware tag as a caveat.
With all three obstacles – legitimacy, leader choice and plausible deniability – out of the United States’ way, covert action could be imminent. The US has a moral responsibility to perform a coup in Venezuela, and save its citizens from the tyranny and barbarism that has infested the Maduro regime. Time will tell, but no doubt many people will be keeping a close eye on the South American country in the next few weeks.