Yesterday, in a thinkpiece posted at Project Syndicate, Venezuelan economist and former Planning Minister, Ricardo Hausmann, proposes an alternative long deemed unthinkable, and now increasingly tempting: foreign military intervention.
As solutions go, why not consider the following one: the National Assembly could impeach Maduro and the OFAC-sanctioned, narco-trafficking vice president, Tareck El Aissami (…) The Assembly could constitutionally appoint a new government, which in turn could request military assistance from a coalition of the willing, including Latin American, North American, and European countries. This force would free Venezuela, in the same way Canadians, Australians, Brits, and Americans liberated Europe in 1944-1945. Closer to home, it would be akin to the US liberating Panama from the oppression of Manuel Noriega, ushering in democracy and the fastest economic growth in Latin America.
This is a well-travelled road. Last August, when the U.S. President said he considered military options, the martial fantasies of both the government and the so-called “keyboard warriors” got crazy excited, but prof. Hausmann’s piece is no thoughtless comment. With no options left, a foreign military intervention, delineated in accordance to International Law, may be in Venezuela’s best interest. On paper, it would be closer to Grenada than the updated Bay of Pigs that Chavismo always envisioned.
This leaves us with an international military intervention, a solution that scares most Latin American governments because of a history of aggressive actions against their sovereign interests, especially in Mexico and Central America. But these may be the wrong historical analogies. After all, Simón Bolívar gained the title of Liberator of Venezuela thanks to an 1814 invasion organized and financed by neighboring Nueva Granada (today’s Colombia). France, Belgium, and the Netherlands could not free themselves of an oppressive regime between 1940 and 1944 without international military action
But the problem is not how. The problem is why.
Why would Colombia, or Peru, or Spain or any other democratic country commit their nation’s taxes, resources and soldiers’ lives to a high-risk adventure against a well-stocked military regime, with state-of-the-art Russian weaponry, plus tens of thousands of militias and fanatical followers who have mythologized a foreign invasion?
Apparently, because it’s the right thing to do:
An imploding Venezuela is not in most countries’ national interest. And conditions there constitute a crime against humanity that must be stopped on moral grounds. The failure of Operation Market Garden in September 1944, immortalized in the book and film A Bridge Too Far, led to famine in the Netherlands in the winter of 1944-1945. Today’s Venezuelan famine is already worse. How many lives must be shattered before salvation comes?
A noble pitch, but one so Venezuela-centric that it loses sight of the obvious: politicians in neighbouring countries are focused on their own problems (and re-election prospects). That’s as it should be.
The examples offered don’t really apply to the Venezuelan context either. Panama during Noriega, the go-to example, had a population of less than 2,5 million people, and a whole lot of U.S. military bases already in the Panama Canal Zone — which was sovereign U.S. territory at the time. Even so, they were not spared the atrocities.
European countries under Nazi occupation during World War II make even less sense as a case example. The U.S. didn’t fight World War II to liberate the Netherlands.
Grenada, however, could be regarded as a positive example involving local government officials and the international community protesting a military takeover of the government that included the execution of prime minister Maurice Bishop and a U.S.-led military force restoring democracy. Today, the invasion is commemorated as their Thanksgiving.
The closest equivalent to what could happen is not a Latin American experience, but a Middle-Eastern one.
It managed to be a success despite condemn by the United Nations, thanks to the tense Cold War climate that allowed Ronald Reagan a lot of leeway back home, and Grenada having a third of the territory and a fourth of the population of Margarita Island. And even then, they had problems!
I could be wrong. Maybe the hypothetical military intervention could be a clean and swift affair, reinstating democratic order in Venezuela. But the way I see it, the closest equivalent to what could happen is not a Latin American experience, but a Middle-Eastern one. A long, slow bloodbath of a guerrilla war in an oil country shaped by decades of authoritarian military government, with a cult of personality too weak to fend by itself. At worst, like Syria, it could turn into a proxy war between world powers.
How could the countries of this imaginary coalition sell this to their electorates back home?
They couldn’t. Which is why it won’t happen.