Devon Chenelle | University of Notre Dame
During my semester abroad, nothing irritated me like Chileans’ view of immigrants. All Colombians were drug-dealers, all Haitians were poor illiterates, and numerous Chileans told me “there used to be no blacks in this country.” This treatment was spared the Venezuelans, for whom Chileans felt pity tinged with “there but for the grace of God go I,” for the Chavista regime parallels Chilean President Salvador Allende, a Marxist toppled in a 1973 coup encouraged by Henry Kissinger.
Unlike the graceless reception our machinations usually receive, conservative Chileans still laud this victory against communism. Today, the coup of 1973 is remembered as a Chilean conflict, and America’s role is understood, roughly, as “supporting the army against the Marxists, po, who expects anything else from the gringos,” an affable attitude also informed by post-coup reforms which transformed Chile into an economic powerhouse. Over that period, Venezuela has lost its freedom and wealth, and now risks total collapse. Last week Venezuela’s government delayed elections; things there are so bad and have been for so long that nobody cared. Venezuela will someday retrieve order, prosperity, and civil society. Yet each day the present crisis continues, Venezuela’s road back to normalcy grows longer and more treacherous. Regime change in Caracas is long overdue, and America ought ensure it.
Venezuelans’ suffering beseeches American succor. Maduro and his cronies have destroyed nearly all of the country’s democratic institutions; those that remain are shambolic figureheads. Opposition leaders are subject to surveillance, imprisonment, and assassination. With an upcoming election, every opposition leader of note is imprisoned, exiled, or barred from running, as the regime forgoes even the pretense of competitive democracy. Most pressing is the refugee crisis, numerically comparable to the of the Syrian migrations.
Roughly 1,000,000 Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015, and this flood of refugees threatens the region’s stability, but particularly our long-time ally Colombia’s domestic tranquility, whose long-awaited internal peace could be broken by the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees on its borders, a crisis is so massive none can expect Colombia to handle it alone. Since last August, 250,000 Venezuelan refugees have arrived in Colombia, with an additional 3,000 coming daily. We must prevent this crisis from worsening to relieve our allies and partners, but also because while the refugee situation is currently a slow-moving, albeit massive, emergency, a single “black swan” event, such as an earthquake, could transform this slow-moving crisis into a fast one that takes thousands of vulnerable lives before a response can be mustered.
Should we set aside ethical considerations for strategic ones, it becomes clear the removal and replacement of Venezuela’s communist government would advance American interests more powerfully and cheaply than any of the miserable desert wars we’ve recently stumbled into, a conclusion supported by geopolitical, historical, and economic considerations. First, the state collapse Venezuela is headed towards, barring American occupation, would introduce anarchy into our backyard and offer America’s rivals a foothold near our national backdoor. Geopolitical considerations indicate we ought to intervene sooner rather than later; who knows when Maduro might offer to host a Chinese naval squadron.
Prompt action will ensure we box China out. Chinese soldiers in Venezuela would not totally foreclose the possibility of military action, but would complicate the situation immensely. Intervention would also be in keeping with historical precedent; our interests in the region are so fundamental, in 1895 we nearly went to war with the British Empire over its border dispute with Venezuela. Furthermore, since our republic’s earliest days we have safeguarded the Caribbean. Now, with the world’s largest navy, Caribbean chaos is inexcusable. The spirit of the Monroe Doctrine remains alive and well and, unlike neoconservativism, it has long served America, and The Americas, well.
Additionally, intervention’s economic rewards, primarily benefiting Venezuela but also its neighbors, are so rich they could by themselves entice a less restrained power (here’s looking at you Vlad) to action. First and foremost, Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. After decades of mismanagement, oil production is half what it was in 1998. When we install a new government in Caracas, we will provide them with the capital and expertise required to double, or more, their oil production, reigniting Venezuela’s economy with the oil revenue it desperately needs. Additionally, the Venezuelan economy has, as a consequence of the government’s decision to pay its bills by printing money, undergone such drastic inflation the government no longer issues inflation statistics.
The IMF estimates inflation this year will be 13,000%, hyperinflation so severe that briefly shifting the economy to dollars may be the only way to preserve monetary exchange, a step that reinforces the dollar’s position as the global reserve currency. Finally, simply removing the dangerous Maduro government from power will immediately generate regional economic benefits by reducing uncertainty and insecurity. In the long-term, the Caribbean will profit if Venezuela begins an economic recovery, for the region needs Venezuela’s participation, which within living memory was Latin America’s richest state.
A Venezuelan intervention would be wildly different from our recent foreign adventures, all misguided forays outside our true hegemonic zones, the Americas and Europe. Several years ago, I struck up a conversation with a pair of Venezuelans adjacent to me in the Lollapalooza admission line. After I expressed my sympathies for their country’s downward spiral, one, with pure criollo contempt in his voice, described Maduro as the “bus driver ruling my country.” Enmity for Maduro and the Chavistas, always present, is more widespread than ever after years of unabated failure. Many Venezuelans would welcome American intervention, and those who wouldn’t are less likely to declare holy war against us than were the victims of our previous invasions. The Venezuelan population will receive American occupation differently than the Iraqis did; to Iraqis, American soldiers are the stormtroopers of an incomprehensibly alien global imperium.
To Venezuelans, American invasion would just be further confirmation that the Yanquis have the decisive role in Latin American politics. Given our, at the very least, mixed record with South American regime change, recently successful in Panama and Grenada, there is reasonable hope we could restore prosperity to Venezuela. This intervention would be fundamentally different from those in the Middle-East, well illustrated through language. Forget needing to recruit, train, and deploy an army of translators to communicate with the locals: I guarantee almost any U.S. Army platoon has multiple native Spanish speakers, far superior in all respects to an attached non-native speaker of broken Standard Arabic. A Puerto Rican or Mexican in Venezuela is like an American in Canada; a white guy with college Arabic in some abyss like Fallujah or Raqqa is closer to a Zulu in Moscow.
Over dinner, my host mom once described Allende’s final announcement. Sounding, she claimed, so drunk she could smell the pisco, Allende proclaimed, amidst a breakdown of order and national emergency, there remained only “three more days of food” in the capital. The next day, she watched the Chilean Air Force’s planes fly over the city, and, knowing the national nightmare was over, she wept tears of joy as she felt the explosions from the bombs hitting the presidential palace. Though the first years following the coup were, predictably, economically rocky and dogged by political persecutions, within five years Chile was experiencing its greatest ever economic growth. 18 years after the coup, democracy was peacefully restored. Today, Chile is democratic, prosperous - and built along Pinochet’s designs, not Allende’s.
Eight years before the Constitution’s ratification, Thomas Jefferson described America as an “Empire of liberty,” committed to self-governance and safeguarding the Western Hemisphere’s autonomy and prosperity. Intervention in Venezuela would be in keeping with these foundational, and thus far fruitful, American ideals. Additionally, Venezuela will likely experience salutary effects from our meddling, if we swiftly return political power to the Venezuelans and provide sufficient financing to kickstart their flatlined economy. Indeed, the situation is currently so bad, modest initial improvements should be quick. We must embrace (ya lo he hecho, solo tengo que aprender mejor bailar, una necesidad si convertimos en una cultura más latina) America’s increasingly Latin future. Expelling the chavistas and restoring order to Venezuela would productively engage with a vital region we have too long neglected. Finally, deposing Maduro will declare to the world a new, forward-looking American foreign policy; signaling to all that while America is done invading sandy places that want nothing to do with us or our nation-building, the eagle will always intercede when a communist cabal is creating catastrophe in our half of the globe.