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OPINION: Why we should be careful with Venezuela

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Opinion editor Tim Zelina argues America’s rush to topple Maduro’s Venezuelan regime may have dangerous consequences down the road. 

President Donald Trump shocked the world last Wednesday by joining a coalition of nations declaring support for opposition leader Juan Guiado as the legitimate President of Venezuela. In seeking to remove incumbent Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and replace him with a more agreeable leader, America and its allies are headed down a dangerous and uncertain path.

Venezuela has been embroiled by crisis in recent years, as beleaguered President Maduro struggles to maintain power in the wake of economic and political upheaval. Venezuela’s heavily oil-dependent economy has collapsed as a result of fracking driving down global oil prices, and Maduro’s regime has been unable to contain the economic fallout.

But Maduro has held on in the face of years of protests by dissidents, much to the chagrin of his detractors, domestic and foreign. Now the Organization of American States – a U.S.-led coalition of nations in the Americas – and the European Union have teamed up to prop up Guiado as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela.

Some, like Brazilian President Jail Bolsonaro, have advocated for direct military intervention to remove Maduro. Others seek a more subtle route by placing enormous pressure on the Maduro regime in hopes his key allies will defect.

It’s an attractive proposition to remove Maduro from power; he’s practiced all the cronyism and demagoguery of his predecessor, Chavez, without the latter’s economic prowess or personal charm.

But America, and the world at large, should exercise caution against the widespread excitement of the growing existential threat facing Maduro. An attempt to remove Maduro may end up backfiring.

One doesn’t have to look far to find a cautionary comparison. In 2011, a popular rebellion blindsided Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The international community, excited over the prospect of democracy in Libya, joined rebel forces in killing Gaddafi and ending his authoritarian regime.

But the sweetness of victory did not last long. Libya failed to recover from the loss of its central authority, and the country has been suffering from civil war and economic stagnation ever since.

It’s not just the people of Venezuela to be concerned about; America would also do well to carefully guard its image in Latin America. American-backed coups are, to put it lightly, not a fond memory for many in the region.

These coups in the past led directly to murderous dictators like Chilean Pinochet and Argentine Peron, and America still has yet to make amends with the nations and peoples victimized by the CIA’s anti-communist terror campaign.

Now, history seems to be repeating itself. Though Maduro is an easy target for ire, we know very little about his opposition. What we do know is repulsive characters like Jail Bolsonaro stand to gain influence and prestige from their intervention in Venezuela. Is Maduro so bad we’d be willing to replace him with a figure like Bolsonaro?

And just how does his opposition plan to replace him? Maduro still holds the loyalty of the bulk of the armed forces, and despite his situation, a large plurality of the population still stands with him.

Is the opposition willing to engage in a bloody civil war that could drag for a decade, like the Syrian conflict? Is America, so eager to overthrow the Venezuelan president, going to take in the refugees fleeing chaos in their home? Or will we close our doors?

Should Maduro fall, who will replace him? Will they be a beacon of Western democracy? Or will we see someone like Egyptian strongman el-Sisi, who takes advantage of post-revolutionary chaos to secure their own power?

It’s easy to join in the condemnations of Maduro’s regime. What’s not so easy is planning for what happens next. Coups and revolutions are dangerous, and they should not be treated lightly.



Tim Zelina is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. The views and opinions of this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of The New Political.

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