Too Close for Comfort: Inside the Escalating Tensions With Venezuela

Anti-government protestors clash with police forces in Caracas, Venezuela. (Unmodified Creative Commons photo by Andres E. Azpurua.

On Friday, August 12, President Donald Trump shook the Americas when he discussed a “possible military option” in Venezuela.

Objections to the threat of violence came from all over Latin America. Leaders in Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico all stood strongly against the idea of a military intervention. However, most of the nations in the region agree that the situation in Venezuela is rapidly escalating, and may require outside action.

Nicolas Maduro became Venezuela’s president in April of 2013. An economic crisis in the country, partly brought about by the sharp decline in the price of oil, Venezuela’s main export, has been accompanied by shortages of basic goods, hyperinflation and massive protests.

Maduro’s government has shown no tolerance towards protestors. In 2017 alone, over 100 people have died as pro- and anti-government forces clash in the streets. According to members of the Venezuelan opposition, government forces have used violent methods to curb peaceful demonstrations of dissent.

Members of the opposition, media outlets and leaders from around the world have labeled President Maduro as a dictator, and his regime as a constant violator of human rights.

“The policies pursued by the authorities in their response to the protests have been at the cost of Venezuelans’ rights and freedoms,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein.

The statement followed a report by the UN human rights body citing the use of extreme force in suppressing protests and the jailing of the ruling party’s political opponents.

The crisis in Venezuela is of high importance to the United States, both in terms of its interests on the world stage and the concerns of people living within the U.S.

Latin America is a region with deep economic and political ties to the United States. For example, the U.S. has supported efforts by Mexico and Colombia to stamp out the illegal drug trade and curb the presence of violent gangs.

But Venezuela, due to chaos throughout the country and government leaders seeking to make a profit, has become a haven for the transport of drugs throughout the entire hemisphere.

It is also in the U.S.’s best interest to make sure Latin America is as democratic as possible. Free and democratic countries are less likely to erupt into violent conflict that can spread throughout the region and put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.

The U.S. is home to over 300,000 Venezuelan-Americans, with around one-third of them living in Florida.

When the Venezuelan opposition held an unofficial referendum opposing Maduro’s reform of the constitution, polling centers for Venezuelans opened up throughout the state. An estimated 73,000 Venezuelans showed up to vote in Florida alone, demonstrating a massive rebuke of the Venezuelan government.

Still, the U.S. faces a legal and moral conundrum in addressing the issues in Venezuela.

President Maduro insists that other countries have no business in interfering, and that the crackdown on protests is because the protestors are promoting violence and terrorism.

Bolivia and Nicaragua, Latin American allies of Venezuela, as well as several Caribbean nations have stood in staunch defense of the government. While 12 countries in the Americas have condemned the actions of Venezuela’s government, division within the region will make action against it difficult.

In addition to a military intervention, the U.S. government has not ruled out the possibility of an oil embargo on Venezuela.

Because Venezuela’s main export is oil, an embargo is expected to devastate the economy, putting pressure on Maduro to change his ways. Unfortunately, it could also place the lives of Venezuela’s people in a dire state as shortages worsen, and give Maduro the ammunition he needs to continue verbally attacking the United States.

For the time being, the U.S. has placed economic sanctions on members of Venezuela’s government. On Sunday, September 24, the Trump administration instituted a travel ban, barring government officials and their immediate families from entering the United States. Despite threats and ordinances on both sides, the future of U.S.-Venezuela relations remains uncertain.

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