Venezuela, a country of over 31 million people has been in the grip of economic catastrophe for over five years. They possess the world’s largest oil reserves, and the trade of this commodity represents 96% of the country’s export income. However, for the average citizen of Venezuela’s capital Caracas, the empty, dust-clad shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies are a deafening reminder that their country is not how it once was, especially as many honest people have turned to often a violent crime as a means of feeding themselves and their families. Inflation is set to hit a national record of 1,000,000%, with the IMF comparing their troubles to that of Germany following the Great War. This over-reliance on the international oil economy allowed on the one hand for popular large-scale social initiatives under the Socialist regime of Hugo Chavez in the 90’s, but on the other hand, it made their economy precariously linked to the frequent fluctuations of oil prices more so than almost every other modern economy. Venezuela’s income changed at the whim of a barrel of oil and made the gravity of economic mismanagement all the worse for the economy. The succession of the current (and repeatedly ‘elected’) president Nicolas Maduro in 2013 following Chavez’s death heralded unprecedented authoritarian consolidations of political power and economic mismanagement. Hyperinflation spread through the economy like a virus but was let be as long as Maduro could pay the generals associated with his rise to power and continued allowance to act against public democratization.
Currently, the international community is faced with a political dilemma relating to the notion of intervention against a corrupt and authoritarian governmental power, that still however enjoys a certain level of Venezuelan public support (especially within their large military) and international sympathy from the likes of Russia and China, or leaving the country to decide its own fate for better or worse in the midst of an expanding humanitarian crisis. Countries in the EU (including Ireland) under the spearheaded guidance of U.S foreign policy have issued statements of unanimous support for Juan Guaidó, a 35-year-old politician and speaker at the country’s National Assembly, who was thrust into the international eye after claiming to be Venezuela’s legal interim president. Guaidó has earned much support among the 2 million disenfranchised Venezuelans in Colombia in search of better lives, the more radical Venezuelan youth one can see in footage of street battles and abroad as he stylises himself after the atypical western bureaucrat in attire and political values. With promises of fresh elections, an end to corruption, and a liberalisation of the economy akin to that of the U.S and the E.U, many have rushed to hedge their bets with his success. For many Venezuelans and South Americans more generally, the desire for change can be enticing and public support for his oppositional movement grows by the day.
However, many political figures, critics and members of the wider public disagree on how to approach such an issue from an international perspective and on how countries like the U.S have handled past actions relating to South American statehood. The United States has quite an extensive history of state interventions in Latin America akin to their involvement in Middle-Eastern geopolitics ranging from arming rebel groups, CIA coups, to actual invasions to depose certain governments. This leads to a general mistrust in U.S involvement and input regarding the legality of certain regimes, coupled with an extensive tradition of anti-imperialism within Venezuelan political culture and the public at large, many are forced to decide between Maduro and Trump. One can see online footage of Venezuelan soldiers enthusiastically singing anti-American marching songs in order to exemplify this. The notion of direct foreign military intervention is a real factor to consider in this situation, as Guaidó’s most pressing problem is being currently unable to get the backing of the military who have been as of yet firmly loyal to Maduro, possibly allowing the U.S to consider the credibility of militarily installing the governmental opposition. The United States have proven time and time again that their foreign policy will often contain some form underlying malicious motive, as for example a U.S diplomat Elliot Abrams and is currently serving in the Trump administration as a special envoy to Venezuela, even though during the Reagan administration he funded and orchestrated Salvadoran death squads during their civil war, and was caught lying to Congress about such actions before being eventually pardoned by George W Bush. The U.S could use Venezuela’s hardships as a means of directing their government to conform with their wider international and economic goals of the country, as the U.S is the biggest importer of Venezuelan crude oil. Furthermore, some become hesitant in supporting Guaidó as his claim to the presidency is fervently supported by Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who actively promotes the political suppression of left-wing dissidents in his own socio-political context. Venezuela has, in brief, become a new world hot-spot for political proxy conflicts between governments with rivalling motives like the U.S, China and Russia, which will, unfortunately, shift the focus away from the genuine oppression and humanitarian crisis suffered under Maduro, and leave many with a moral dilemma regarding the limits of intervention.
By Aaron Collier – Politics Writer