Despite extreme repression under the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, the case for a U.S. military invasion of Venezuela remains unconvincing. Yet the case for the use of force by Venezuelans-with organizational and intelligence support from the U.S. and regional allies-has never been stronger.
Venezuela is occupied by Cuba and Russia and by Iranian proxies. China is also a Maduro ally though it relies on commercial relations to sink its claws into the country. These imperialists may not share a common vision. But they have a common interest, which is to redraw the geopolitical map of the Western Hemisphere to minimize U.S. influence.
The occupiers have no incentive to back off. A complex web of Venezuelan criminals help them do their dirty work, and they face no imminent threat to their dominance over the population.
The Trump administration has sought a nonviolent resolution. It has imposed sanctions and offered Venezuelan military commanders generous packages to jump sides.
But Havana, Moscow and Tehran-along with Chinese credit-offer the thugs running the country something better: the status quo. As long as they have the guns and what’s left of the butter, they have no reason to care about Venezuelans who starve or flee.
This Maduro “mafia”-as Adm. Craig Faller, head of the U.S. Southern Command, has referred to the regime in Caracas-will need to be forcibly removed. Venezuela’s democratic institutions will need to be rebuilt. Both those tasks belong to Venezuelans. Only they can secure their own democracy.
Contrary to some American armchair quarterbacks, Venezuelans have demonstrated great courage. For years they have faced off against the Cuban-trained Venezuelan gestapo in the streets. They are viciously beaten with the butts of rifles, pummeled by rubber bullets, and shrouded in tear gas. Many have been shot and killed. Others are imprisoned and tortured. Children, spouses and neighbors of protesters are terrorized.
At the moment this nation of hostages is demoralized by its many failed attempts to break free. The clean overthrow envisioned in January, when interim President Juan Guaidó was first tapped to lead a new government, now seems remote. Mr. Guaidó’s recent decision to open talks with Mr. Maduro in Oslo further undermined national confidence. Mr. Guaidó said last week that the talks are over. But the damage to the Venezuelan psyche has been done.
Venezuelan patriots need outside help, as did the French Resistance against Nazi Germany and the Nicaraguan Contras against the first dictatorship of Daniel Ortega.
Because the foreign occupation has been accomplished without military battalions, the conflict is asymmetric and unconventional. Cuba is the thin edge of the wedge. It has used its police-state apparatus to penetrate and control Venezuela in ways that many advocates of U.S. military action don’t understand. From government ministries and social “missions,” where Venezuelans can get food, to identity cards, passport controls, ports of entry and social media, the Cuban Big Brother is in charge. It’s the main reason Venezuelan soldiers have been unable to organize a successful rebellion.
The cause of freedom is best served using more brains than brawn. A full assessment requires mapping the threat network throughout the region. Venezuela cannot be reclaimed without dedicating serious resources to counteracting Cuban control of cyberspace and communications and to enhancing public diplomacy.
The good news is that Venezuela is brimming with hearts and minds ready to serve as human intel. Outside the country, small groups of Venezuelan fighters can be trained, organized and equipped by the allies to begin conducting strikes with the goal of securing a foothold from which operations can be expanded.
The U.S. has successfully led this type of unconventional warfare for decades. And it could be carried out consistent with the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance-a k a the Rio Treaty-which obliges signatories to assist their neighbors when there is a threat by a foreign power.
Americans may ask why the U.S. should get involved in Venezuela. But this isn’t about Venezuela per se. This is about an offensive in the Western Hemisphere by adversaries of the West. The oil-rich nation happens to be ground zero. As Adm. Faller told an audience at Florida International University last month, the U.S. is already battling Russia and China in the region. “We’re at war right now for ideas, at war in cyberspace and in the information space.”
In other words, this is another conflict in which the U.S. and its allies are nominally facing a small, politically weak opponent but are in fact dueling with great powers. Venezuela is the proxy. This suggests a strategy of giving the alternative regime that the U.S. is backing, that of Mr. Guaidó, real power.
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