On Feb. 18, President Donald Trump issued a statement to Venezuela’s military: abandon its support for current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — or else. The president warned at a speech at Florida International University that if the military continues to support Maduro, they will “lose everything.” While this ultimatum is vague by nature, it brings up concerns about how far the U.S. is willing to go to in order to oust Maduro as president and let Juan Guaidó, Maduro’s U.S.-backed challenger, assume power until a new election can be held. Guaidó claims the recent election that re-elected Maduro was fraudulent, and has since proclaimed himself the interim president until fair elections can be held — a point the legislature supports and Maduro dismisses.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela continues. Citizens still face food shortages and power outages. This has drawn the attention of the international community, with aid from across the world flowing to the borders. The U.S., along with the a large part of the international community, backs Guaidó as the current Venezuelan president, which has added another political dimension to the crisis. This tension has also been exacerbated by the long and turbulent past between the U.S. and Venezuela, with Maduro even refusing to accept U.S. aid as a result. Ultimately, however, the most pressing aspect of the crisis is the miserable shortage of basic goods and freedoms the Venezuelan people have endured. At this point, inaction is tantamount to complicity; the U.S. has a responsibility to address the crisis. By collaborating with regional and international actors, the U.S. can help establish a truly free and fair presidential re-election as soon as possible and thereby minimize the possibility of further Venezuelan suffering.
The most important and pressing fact is that the people of Venezuela are currently fighting for survival. Citizens lack basic access to food and medical services and are facing a national blackout. The U.S. ought to continue to do what it can as an economic and political power to provide aid to the Venezuelans. We at The Daily feel it is important that this aid be distributed for the sole purpose of humanitarian assistance and not as a tool in disrupting Maduro or furthering domestic political agendas. Recently, Trump has erroneously blamed the current dismal conditions of Venezuela on socialism, rather than resource dependency and economic mismanagement. This only worsens the politicization of the problem. Furthermore, Venezuelans are being denied aid due their country’s turbulent political history with the U.S., so any sense that American aid is simply cover for political interference could lead to continued denial of aid for Venezuelans. Approaching the immediate problem at hand will take cooperation on both sides to ensure the quickest and most efficient resolution possible.
This also means that Maduro will need to step up and put his own politics aside in order to help the people of his country. Maduro often invokes the idea of “patria,” or fatherland, to justify his rule. If this is truly the case, he ought to do whatever it takes to provide Venezuela’s citizens with the most basic needs of food, medicine and basic living standards. As we have stressed with regard to the U.S. government, the Venezuelan government — including both Maduro and the opposition — should put aside political agendas in order to ensure the livelihoods of its citizens.
Beyond the immediate humanitarian issue, however, it is increasingly evident that the root of Venezuela’s problems is intertwined with a violent political history. The international community must tread carefully in the fashion by which it provides aid and/or intervenes in Venezuela. We encourage the United States to reflect on its complicated relationship and past involvement in Latin America, and caution against military or imperialistic intervention. To go in and determine the presidency by force would be an excessive overreach of the United States’ position, and would likely fuel Maduro and his supporters’ view of the U.S. as a nefarious agent bent on political control. Instead, we suggest further collaboration between the U.S. and the international community, specifically with Latin American coalitions that have a larger stake in finding a resolution, so that free democracy and peace can eventually be reached through fair and uninhibited elections.
The future in Venezuela is undoubtedly ambiguous, and we cannot predict the fates of Maduro or his opposition. What is absolutely clear, however, is the immediate suffering of everyday Venezuelans who lack basic resources and necessities; they have weathered enough human rights abuses to justify reasonably-restrained involvement and aid in their country. To the extent that their suffering has been cruelly exacerbated by political unrest, it can also be remedied by political solutions. We hope that the U.S. can take a benevolent role in this project and help establish true democracy in Venezuela that caters to the needs of Venezuelans first.