The United States’ decision – and that of its allies, both in the west and east – to endorse the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s leader, Juan Guaidó, in Venezuela ignores the logistical obstacles endured by president Nicolas Maduro. America’s support for regime change/foreign intervention in order to ”aid” Venezuela during its “monumental” humanitarian crisis will subsequently amount to failure if realised as the nation’s social, political and economic structural weaknesses have not been adequately considered.
Ideology has ruled conversation on Venezuela since Hugo Chavez won the 1998 election with a variation of socialist policy pledges. Discourse surrounding contemporary Venezuela’s unprecedented levels of poverty has since focused on increased state control over oil reserves – the largest in the world – corruption, tax reform, foreign debt renegotiations, revenue re-allocations to increase public welfare programs and general negligence.
Indeed, nobody can deny the degeneration of the country’s oil sector and the role that this has played on its oil-dependent economy. Mismanagement and corruption have played an integral role to Venezuela’s impoverishment. What those in favour of US-led intervention fail to acknowledge is the historically coercive role oil has played in Venezuelan politics since its significant reserves were discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century. Long predating Chavez, Venezuela’s capitalist regimes established oil concessions and access for political allies which have continued to dictate the nation’s economics and politics.
Following the failed US-backed coup of 2002, Chavez implemented currency controls alongside numerous pay-offs to secure investors within the unstable political and economic setting. Maduro inherited this fundamentally unstable aspect of Venezuelan politics. Yet his regime has attempted to maintain such pay-offs in spite of the monumental oil crash of 2014.
This “political mortgage” has no doubt been to the detriment of the Venezuelan population, who have suffered inflation as Venezuelan bolivars were printed in an attempt to compensate for Venezuela’s shrinking revenue from oil sales. The United States & co. have since used the pay-offs as justification to impose strict sanctions on the nation, with direct losses over three years of around US$38 billion since their implementation. These sanctions have only exacerbated the crisis facing Venezuela and its population post-2014 crash. Most importantly, they have been enacted without considering the structural weaknesses that underpin an economy dependent on one industry or resource. The blight of corruption which parallels the power of oil is evident throughout all regimes in Venezuelan modern history and such corruption will continue despite a change in regime.
No matter the motivation and intent of a potential regime change in Venezuela, we also must consider the turbulent history of the United States regarding intervention in Latin America. Whether justified by protecting the population of the United States, its economic interests, pre-empting conflict or policing governments they deem corrupt; too often US intervention has resulted in lingering dictatorships and internal conflict.
Perhaps the most overt example is that of Nicaragua. The rebel army of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) led a left-wing revolution as a broad coalition from 1979, before Reagan’s administration trained, armed and financed counter-revolutionary ‘Contras’. Known for their use of death squads, the Contras wreaked havoc over the Nicaraguan population, perpetrating thousands of killings, kidnappings, tortures, rapes and displacements. Reagan’s illegal support for the reactionary group continued until a peace agreement was reached in 1989.
At the height of the conflict in 1985, Daniel Ortega was elected as president (under the FSLN). He led the left-wing party until their defeat at the 1989 post-peace agreement election and was again elected to lead Nicaragua and the FSLN in 2007. Ortega, despite once representing a party that spurred American anti-communist action, no longer represented “the ideals that so many Nicaraguans fought and died for”, as described by former Vice President Sergio Ramirez. American interests have prevailed in the country as Ortega now supports corporate interests and centres Nicaraguan politics around a purely capitalist ideologue.
Most critically, the death squads which were responsible for the chaos and destruction of the 1980s have returned. The social and political climate of Nicaragua remains haunted by the groups so willingly supported by the Reagan administration. As parallels emerge today between the two eras – the Nicaraguan government under Ortega has lethally suppressed left wing protests, barred its political opposition from elections and repressed civilians – the highly destructive impact of US intervention and influence becomes apparent. While America has left the country, Nicaragua’s political instability and turmoil has remained.
Ironically, the United States & co have used Venezuelan military spending as a paradigm for Maduro’s negligence toward the starving population. If the United States wished for foreign governments to avoid directing vital funding toward military purposes, it should consider retracting rhetoric which threatens the sovereignty of nations such as Venezuela. It is also deeply hypocritical when considering the current military budget of the United States in comparison to the deepening impoverishment of much of its population.
The political bargaining power of oil has been exploited for over a decade in Venezuela. United States intervention will prove inept in aiding “democracy” and the economy as oil and the corruption linked to it will continue to dominate the country’s politics whether Venezuela has a socialist-inspired regime led by Maduro, or a model dominated by the free market as aspired to by Guaidó. If the international community truly wished to aid Venezuela, it would recognise this crisis not as one of regime, but a result of the structural weaknesses that underpin economies dependent on one resource/industry. It would empower the nation with the prospects of diversification necessary to make the country less vulnerable to temperamental oil markets and it would remove the sanctions which have exacerbated the crisis. It would rescind talk of American-led intervention based on a Western analysis that fails to consider the structural flaws inherent to the nation regardless of regime type. By so doing it would avoid repeating actions which have historically destabilised so much of the world.