It was only yesterday when Ed was talking about the decision by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to crack down on “illegal bakers” who were committing the unimaginable sin of making brownies using… flour. As ridiculous as the story sounds, it was only one more of many bricks in a constantly growing wall which should be telling us that this guy needs to go. The people of Venezuela are literally starving to death in the streets while Maduro and his cronies continue to eat well and live comfortable lifestyles. But what, if anything, can we realistically do about it?
The editorial board of the Washington Post has actually put forth some suggestions which deserve a serious look. I rarely get the opportunity to agree with the WaPo editors, so when they get something right I’m more than willing to step up and say so. In this case they go so far as to describe the situation as one where President Trump can actually “correct the mistakes of the Obama administration.”
AS VENEZUELA has plunged deeper and deeper into a economic, political and humanitarian crisis, its regional neighbors and the United States have stood back, refusing to adopt meaningful collective measures to pressure the authoritarian regime of Nicolás Maduro and instead hiding behind appeals for “dialogue” with the democratic opposition. Now the region’s leaders are being bluntly called out by the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who says the strategy has been a feckless failure and that collective action is imperative to restore Venezuelan democracy. The Obama adminisration ignored Mr. Almagro when he made a similar appeal last year. The Trump administration should listen to him.
Mr. Almagro, a former Uruguayan foreign minister, is anything but the right-wing fascist that Mr. Maduro’s propaganda describes. He is, rather, a leftist liberal democrat who has committed himself to defending the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a treaty adopted by the 34 OAS nations in 2001 that provides for action — including the suspension of OAS membership — when states breach democratic norms such as free elections, freedom of assembly and free speech.
The Venezuelan regime, says a 73-page report issued Tuesday by Mr. Almagro, “is in violation of every article of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” As he put it, his report is “brimming with abuses, rights violations, curtailment of civil, political and electoral freedoms, poverty, hunger, deprivation of liberty, torture, censorship, and the whole catalogue of violations of political, social and personal dignity.”
There’s something to be said for a plan which could exert true leverage while not going completely overboard and making a situation worse. The Organization of American States isn’t a terribly powerful or frequently discussed entity like NATO, but they do retain some influence in the Western Hemisphere. Booting Venezuela out of the OAS (or at least seriously threatening to do so and providing a deadline for action) could really get Maduro’s attention because it would jeopardize funding and emergency management resources which he is no doubt heavily relying upon.
It should be easily within Donald Trump’s power to use the influence of the United States among other member nations and cobble together the votes necessary to make this happen. (The President gave indications in February that he was ready to step in and get involved in the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.) It would also signify a productive use of power and influence without getting too carried away. As the Washington Post article indicates, there are others in the OAS who are demanding “concrete action” to remove this tyrant from the presidential palace. But what does that even mean? I certainly hope nobody is talking about military intervention at this point. It’s not as if we aren’t already rather busy on that front and the last thing we need is to be getting involved in a land war in South America.
In the end, I wholeheartedly agree that Maduro indeed needs to go. But the only people who can make that happen are the citizens of Venezuela. Thus far they have been attempting to accomplish this through strictly democratic and admirable means, but their efforts have been thwarted by Maduro’s iron control of the judiciary and ominous influence over too many legislators. In the end, it may indeed prove necessary for Maduro to be removed by force. But as with all such revolutions, it is only the subjects of the tyrant who have standing to make that sort of radical change. If they did it, however, it would certainly open the door for the United States and other more democratically organized nations to step into the vacuum with assistance for the citizens and stabilize this rapidly disintegrating country.