A once influential, regional oil-producing nation, Venezuela fell deeper in the political rabbit hole. Yesterday an illegitimate court, upon instructions from Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, dissolved the legislature. Despite being a hopelessly deadlocked institution, it was the only thing that was left of an official opposition. Cuban dictator Raul Castro, Venezuela’s regional minder and Mad Hatter, is grinning from ear to ear.
Soon thereafter, the political slingshots from outside Venezuela hurled the perfunctory expressions of indignation. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States called it a “self-inflicted coup d’État,” adding that “[u]nfortunately, what we had warned has now come to pass.” Foreign ministries around the Americas issued similar press statements. The headlines were just as dramatic and, at times, odd, as if from another universe.
For example, perched thousands of miles away in their Manhattan offices, the New York Times lamented that “Venezuela Muzzles Legislature, Moving Closer to One-Man Rule.” Meanwhile Reuters led with “Venezuela’s Maduro decried as ‘dictator’ after Congress annulled.” There were many more such headlines from outlets around the world. Newsflash folks, Venezuela has been under one-man rule since the days of Hugo Chavez.
These and other supplications and expressions of righteous indignation are really, and unfortunately, no more than the gnashing of teeth that has been underway for years. While the opposition was persecuted, beat up, locked up, and exiled, the free world stood by. President Barack Obama, taking a do-nothing, ‘what difference does it make’ view of things, even warmly embraced dictator Hugo Chavez. All this talking and no action, are partly to blame for what is happening in Venezuela.
You see the Left, and yes, some of the Right, thought it could talk its way out of this political cauldron brewing for decades. Yet Communist Cuba had other plans and, for now, Communist Cuba and, its puppet Venezuela, is winning because they knew no one would step to help the opposition, much less do anymore than talk. And while the free world talked, troublemakers like the Russians moved in and, in essence, control Venezuelan oil sector and will start calling the shots.
The only person that got it right yesterday was the Congress President Julio Borges who called the court ruling, a piece of trash. But now what? There is no easy answer to this. Ironically, it will likely take a regional solution to pull Venezuela out of this mess, including working through the paper tiger that is the Organization of American States, but it will have to be a whole lot more than that. Part of the political solution lies in kicking Communist Cuba out of Venezuela, something that could be accomplished through a combination of regional diplomatic pressure and economic incentives. You see Cuba, too, is undergoing an economic crisis and, as one dissident leader told me last month, a political crisis could also be in the offing.
In Venezuela, its economy is in shambles and those in power do not have the capacity to rescue any of it. Some experts argue it is near, or at, failed state status. One possible solution is to do as economist Steve Hanke has suggested, dollarize the Venezuelan economy, however, that requires political stability and may need a process that encourages former Venezuelan business leaders to come back.
I was recently talking to one of these business leaders who suggests that, for starters, PDVSA should be broken up and American oil companies invited back to revitalize a once thriving and productive oil sector. There is a lot more that can be done, he argued, but if the free world wanted them to help it was going to take a whole lot more than press releases, talking points, or photo opportunities with the struggling Venezuelan opposition that, this person added, is extremely divided. “There are no persons who could,” as this person stressed, “who could answer the phone when the Americans called.”
Whatever is done, one thing is certain, Venezuela is in extremis. This should not come a surprise to anyone who has followed regional politics for the last decade or so. With the help of Communist Cuba, Venezuela has been ruled with an iron fist since 1999. The free world has stood by and accepted it. Meanwhile adversaries and enemies of the United States, including radical Islamists, have made themselves at home in Venezuela.
What is happening today is a natural outcome of a policy of curious ambivalence, or in the case of Obama coddling the Venezuela regime, recklessness. The Trump administration has inherited this mess and it will take all the negotiating skills they can muster to ensure that the Venezuelan problem does not become a regional policy contagion. It will also have to contend with the real possibility of an ally of Iran and Hezbollah, the vice president of Venezuela, taking over the government if things really go deeper in the rabbit hole. And that can happen.
I’ve read and heard experts the past few weeks call for economic sanctions on Venezuela; however, economic sanctions alone will not do a thing except, likely, make the economic and political situation on the ground a whole lot worse than it already is. Frankly economic sanctions stood a chance to do some good a few years ago, yet efforts to impose, albeit, limited sanctions on Venezuela and targeted entities a few years ago were blocked by, among others, the Venezuela Diaspora and opposition leaders. By the time the U.S. government moved on some limited sanctions, it was too little too late.
It’s time Latin American democrats, especially those on the Left, to admit their mistakes and get about the business of picking up the pieces. The United States should also take a sober look at the situation, assess what the Obama administration did, or failed to do, and put a policy of U.S. interests first, especially security interests, to help the region get out of this mess.
It is fourth quarter and your interest is welcome, but, there are larger equities at stake than preserving left-wing governments or ideas. Venezuela and Cuba are intertwined matters. I’m looking forward to America leading, again, in the Americas. Sorely needed.
Stop talking. Think. Act.