Intervention in Venezuela Is Not in Our Interests

Kevin Doremus | @k_doremus

Similar to former President Obama’s uncertainty to intervene in Libya, President Trump is hesitant to commit U.S. troops to Venezuela. This country, which has faced numerous economic crises, is now mired in a political conflict between a US-backed resistance and the government. There are calls for humanitarian actions to prevent the Venezuelan government from harming its people. Others cite the Monroe doctrine to push Russian and Chinese influence outside of Latin America. But the use of military action creates many unknown scenarios, making it challenging to predict what the outcome might be. It is better to use caution than take the risk.

 A Failed Coup in Venezuela?

There has been much controversy of late in Venezuela regarding who is president and whether the national or the constituent assembly is legitimate. The crisis accelerated when the opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president. Now, 54 countries are recognizing him as the legitimate leader.

Guaidó posted a video on April 30 calling for protests in hopes that the top military officials would defect from the Venezuelan government. According to Defense One, the opposition and U.S. officials assumed that three Venezuelan government officials would defect and help oust Maduro. These assumptions were wrong, and the officials chose to remain loyal to President Maduro.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted directly at the three, saying “Your time is up. This is your last chance”. At a press conference Wednesday, Bolton theorized that Cuba might have convinced the alleged defectors to remain. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo additionally blamed Russia. Maduro, with the backing of Cuba, Russia, China, and his military, was able to maintain his grip on power.

During the attempt, CNN initially called the event a coup but later changed the title to an uprising.  People who supported the overthrow of Maduro were not pleased and said that it was not a coup but “an attempt to restore democracy.” John Bolton argues that “This is clearly not a coup. We recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela…It is not a coup for Juan Guaidó to try and take command of the Venezuelan military.”  Whether it is true or not, it does not matter because the result is more than likely that Maduro will tighten his grip on power.

What Now?

The push to achieve regime change through back channels has failed. Now the Trump administration has to decide whether it will militarily intervene or continue with its policy of sanctions against top government officials. The Venezuela situation is complicated, with the U.S., Russia, China, and Cuba involved. While the United States would like Maduro out of power, Maduro does have some international support. The U.S. is interested in a compliant Venezuela because Latin American is considered part of America’s backyard. Also, according to Andrei Korobkov:

The United States has made huge investments in Latin American economies; Latin elites have been educated in the US for generations; the Americans have trained Latin militaries and supplied them with arms for centuries. The region is highly dependent on the US technologically. Besides, Venezuela is one of America’s main oil suppliers. The Americans are exasperated not only by the demonstrative independence of Venezuelan foreign policy but also by the 20 years of leftist reforms under the Chavez and Maduro governments. The same is true of the increasingly noticeable political, economic and military presence of Russia and China in the country. Of no small importance, too, is Venezuela’s good relationship with Cuba.

There are many interests at play.  China has been a significant investor in Venezuela, but over the last year, it has become more cautious.

Further Foreign Interests

On the other hand, Russia has interests in its oil industry and is Venezuela’s arms supplier. The Trump administration is going to have to think very carefully what it decides to do next. One option would be to let China and Russia spend their resources on supporting a country with a failing economic model by allowing the Chinese and the Russians waste their money, so the U.S. does not have to. The other option would be to commit U.S. resources for another attempt at regime change when even the Venezuelan opposition is wary of it. If so, the U.S. will support Juan Guaidó, who says:

In Venezuela there was no socialism because there was no social justice.

As José Alberto warns, replacing Maduro will not bring liberty and prosperity to Venezuela.  The pro-democracy pro-intervention people need to beware of who they are supporting.  If they think Guaidó will bring democracy and freer markets, they might be disappointed.


Noninterventionists would prefer a peaceful resolution to the current situation. Finding common ground in which all the interested actors are satisfied will be a difficult task. The process may be long, but military action might make the situation worse.

As Edwin van de Haar states, “the costs of an intervention are high and the outcome uncertain. The military part might not be so easy, and will cost lives and lead to tremendous economic damage, both in Venezuela and the US.”  Unfortunately, no one can look into the future to show us the correct course of action. As seen by the previous well-intentioned U.S. interventions, there are unforeseen consequences that produced poor outcomes. It is in the best interest of the U.S. to not intervene.

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