The US has paid close attention to what has been happening in Venezuela ever since Hugo Chavez took office back in 2000. Why? Venezuela was always a US ally, but with Chavez the relationship started to weaken given his strong affinity with non-democratic governments, and other issues. If we look back in time, this is the recent history you should know about Venezuela so you can understand its importance not only to the US but to the region:
- PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company has been mismanaged to the point that it doesn’t produce even the half of daily barrels it used to back in 2002 (from 3 million to 1 million). Since the chavista regime has not had the income to cover its expenses or import basic products, and given a currency control since 2003 and the destruction of the productive system due to expropriation of private companies, hyperinflation and scarcity of basic products such as milk, poultry, meats, butter, grains, rice, pasta, deodorant, shampoo, and medicines (from ibuprofen to insulin to retrovirals), have become overwhelming. This has caused a humanitarian crisis resulting in the death of hundreds, including toddlers, infants, and seniors. There are 300,000 lives at stake at the time. Over 3.2 million Venezuelans have fled the country. This massive migration process has generated a regional problem, including the US since Venezuela leads the list of nationalities seeking asylum in the past few years.
- The ties of Venezuelan government with drug trafficking are well-known. The chavista regime created the Cartel of the Suns, run by the military and the now President of the Constituent National Assembly Diosdado Cabello. Through the Cartel of the Suns, the chavista regime has been flooding the US, Europe, and the Middle East with drugs. The US has investigated the Venezuelan regime ties with drug and has imposed sanctions to both individuals and companies whose ties with drug trafficking and corruption they have evidence of. Also, former Vice President and current Minister Tareck El Aissami has been charged in five counts for violating sanctions imposed under the Kingpin Act.
- The political climate is highly polarized in Venezuela. Maduro not only tried to undermine the role of the legislative branch by appointing a Constituent Assembly in Venezuela, violating the constitutional requirements, but has also kidnapped the judicial branch by appointing judges to the Supreme Court without the National Assembly’s approval as required by the Constitution of Venezuela. Furthermore, the National Electoral Council (CNE, by its acronym in Spanish) is also under Maduro’s command as their members are not the ones the National Assembly appointed. Under these circumstances, the illegitimate Constituent Assembly called for presidential elections to be held in May 2018, violating the Venezuelan Constitution. The election was not free or transparent since many parties and opposition leaders were banned from participating and Nicolas Maduro did not allow international oversight. Furthermore, the company that manages the Venezuelan electoral system (Smatmatic) made public evidence of fraud by showing proof of a difference between the number of real votes and the results announced by the CNE.
By then, many countries world wide and the Organization of American States did not recognize the results and warned Nicolás Maduro not to swear in as President of Venezuela on January 10, 2019. But Maduro sworn in at the Supreme Court of Venezuela on that date, which is another violation to the Venezuelan Constitution that states swear-in ceremonies are only valid when the President swears in at the National Assembly and does so in person. So, it is clear that Nicolas Maduro has led numerous institutional coups by violating the Venezuelan Constitution once and again, and became a dictator starting January 10.
Since the presidential elections were unconstitutional and rigged, therefore null according to the Constitution, Venezuela had no president starting January 10, 2019. The Venezuelan Constitution is clear: If the permanent absence of the president occurs, the President of the National Assembly (Mr. Juan Guaidó in this case) must assume the competences of the president and call for free, democratic elections. The Constitution also states that the people have the right and duty not to recognize any government or person that attempts against the Constitution. On January 11, 2019, Mr. Guaidó announced that he would follow the Constitution in front of the National Assembly as mandated by law, and on January 23 he formally sworn in as Interim President of Venezuela in front of the people of Venezuela that were exercising their right to not recognizing Maduro as he was attempting against the Constitution. So, Guaidó did not self-proclaim as President, he was sworn in and has a clear objective: Getting rid of Maduro’s illegitimate regime to call for free and transparent presidential elections, and helping starving people by providing humanitarian aid, which has been denied by the Maduro regime to the Venezuelan people.
Let’s break it down to the facts as of why Venezuela has become a national security issue to the US and why a change in the South American country would benefit Americans:
- Venezuela went from being the US number one oil supplier to being the fourth in the past 20 years. Venezuela is happy to go back to the times when Venezuela was the US first oil supplier because it was a very good deal for both countries (US pays on time and buys on a daily basis, and Americans get cheaper fuel since oil is imported from somewhere closer plus oil is refined in American soil).
- The US is a target of Hezbollah, ISIS, Hamas. There are dormant terrorist cells in Venezuela, supported by the regime; there is evidence of Venezuelan Minister Tareck El Aissami’s ties to these groups. Therefore, by pushing for a change, the US is protecting their national security since these cells will be expelled from Venezuela, minimizing the risk to the US.
- Due to Venezuela’s economic crisis (which doesn’t have anything to do with sanctions imposed by the US since it goes way back in time -Chavez was still alive-), Russia has loaned Venezuela hundreds of millions of dollars that Venezuela cannot pay back because the country is broken (reserves are at the lowest level in the country’s history). As part of the Russia-Venezuela agreements for financial help, Venezuela has agreed to allow Russia to installing missiles in some strategic places. It’s no secret that the US and Russia are not precisely friends, and on Feb 2 the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because Russia was in material breach of it. Therefore, by supporting transition in Venezuela, the US is making sure all those missiles can be deactivated and cause no harm to America if things go south (more) with Russia in the future.
- Asylum applications by Venezuelans have skyrocketed since 2013 (21,722 only in 2018, and the number of people involved is higher since an application by one individual includes relatives). The situation has become so bad that there are delays of over 2 and 3 years in processes to be decided, which means all those people are getting work permits that they renew every two years, but the trick is that if you do not have a decision on your case by the third renewal, you can apply for permanent residence in the US. It’s no secret that Trump’s policy on immigration is 0 immigration, which means the US is carrying the burden of a collapsed immigration system and facing the possibility of legally having to grant permanent residence to many Venezuelans. But they have already done the math: if they can help get rid of the dictatorship in Venezuela, they can deny all those pending asylum cases and send people back home because there won’t be any more reasons for people to fear for their lives.
- The Cartel of the Suns works closely with the FARC in Colombia (another terrorist group) and ships drugs world wide, being one of the top destinies the US since it is the first consumer in the world. Two nephews of Nicolas Maduro were sentenced to jail by a federal court because they were caught smuggling a plane with cocaine (tied to Diosdado Cabello) into the US, and this is only one of the many planes that depart from Venezuela daily through clandestine runways. Since this is a drug trafficking business run by the Venezuelan military, they cannot be stopped because they control all accesses to and from the country by sea, air, and foot.
Last, but not least, the so called military intervention everyone talks about. After reading above, you can conclude that the US is playing its own game (with strong bipartisan support). Venezuelans are not naive to think that they are helping them out of kindness. That said, many Venezuelans do not support a military intervention as they know the moral and economic cost of it. Venezuelans are neither Trump supporters nor Democrats or Republicans, but they do believe in democracy and freedom. Given the fact that judicial and electoral institutions in Venezuela are not democratic and they respond to Maduro’s command, it is clear that Venezuelans cannot have a free, transparent election with the current institutions. So an internal-only solution of the conflict is not possible. If something is true is that dictatorships are bad, no matter whether they are left-wing or right-wing because they all do the same: violate basic human rights. Different international mechanisms are being tried to avoid the need of a military intervention, but sacrificing more lives while the conflict gets worse day after day for the people might to seem a way out.
Unfortunately, many have tried to tag the Venezuelan quest for freedom as a right vs. left battle. Not true. It is a dictatorship vs. democracy battle, a human rights issue that is not only affecting Venezuela but the region. Many say that the Venezuelan opposition, including Guaidó, belongs to the far-right. Not true either. Mr. Guaidó is member of a center-left party, a believer in democracy and social justice. He is leading Venezuelans in their fight against tyranny. They reclaim their right to be free and to live in democracy by following their Constitution. That is why this process is neither a coup nor a US backed-coup.
To all Americans who still believe this is a coup, I would like to ask: What would you do if any US President appoints a second US Congress and invalidates the decisions made by the Congress you elected, does not follow the lawful procedures to appointing the Supreme Court judges, is involved in drug trafficking, has demonstrated ties to terrorist groups, violates your right to have access to food and health, and self-proclaims President for a second term without having run in constitutional elections? Would you recognize their legitimacy? I wouldn’t think so… Furthermore, would you like the world to stand up for you and protect your right to be free and not to starve to death if you didn’t have the means to do it by yourselves? I bet you would. Dubraska Vale @DubraskaVale