What's at Stake in the Venezuelan Struggle
Years ago, when I went to Venezuela to write a report on the country’s seemingly unstoppable boom, I was told that “God is Venezuelan.” Oil aplenty. Trees grow incredibly fast. Fruit is just an arm’s reach away. Indeed, downtown Caracas featured something I hadn’t—and haven’t—seen anywhere else: an upwardly mobile slum. Poor people would move to Venezuela, borrow some money for a down payment, buy a house, and within a relatively short period, sell it for a profit and move up the ladder of life. Plus, it was a democracy (Arthur Schlesinger was a huge fan). Plus, it was pro-American.
So God was Venezuelan. But the ruling class became corrupt, and wrecked the place. This was part of a disappointing global pattern, as many social democrats, many of whom had been active in the late Cold War fight against Communism, were corrupted, both in Latin America and Europe. The list of such leaders includes Nicaragua’s Carlos Andres Perez and European socialist anti-Communists such as Mario Soares (Portugal), Felipe Gonzalez (Spain), and Bettino Craxi (Italy), as well as Czech followers of Vaclav Havel.
Most of those countries have long since voted out the corrupt governments with which they were afflicted, but Venezuelans were not so fortunate. Not only was the economy ruined, but their rulers joined the ranks of a world-wide alliance aimed against the United States, Israel, and the West European democracies. Just look at the global lineup for and against Maduro today, and you can see it, just as General Mike Flynn and I wrote in our best-seller, The Field of Fight. Here is Maduro’s team: Cuba, Turkey, Russia, Iran, China, Nicaragua, and Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy. One will get you ten that North Korea is in there too.
That is the correct way to look at the turmoil in Venezuela. It isn’t just an internal affair; it’s part of a world war. You have surely noticed the reports of aircraft arriving in Caracas from Russia and other friendly countries. And you can bet that the Iranians and Russians are telling Maduro how to cope. You know what they’re saying: kill the ringleaders and arrest everyone else.
No, this isn’t over, not even close. Most revolutions fail. Even some of those that appeared to succeed went from triumph to defeat. Remember Kerensky. He overthrew and replaced the tsar, only to be driven into exile by Lenin et al. He ended up in Palo Alto, California, where you can read his documents in the Hoover Library.
One thing is certain: our enemies are watching attentively, and doing what they can to shore up the Venezuelan dictatorship. Our actions to date are not impressive. We’ve recognized the new government—fine—and we’ve told our brave diplomats to bail out and come home. Not fine. I trust the Marine guards’ guns are loaded. They were not when our embassy in Tehran was stormed. If it were my call, I’d keep our diplomatic personnel on the job, and ostentatiously collude with the rebels.
I don’t have the impression that President Trump and Secretary Pompeo fully recognize what’s at stake in the Venezuelan struggle. I worry that they see this as a purely Venezuelan event, not as one piece of a global confrontation. If Maduro runs away, Khamenei will make plans to evacuate his palace in Tehran. If Maduro and his brutal allies prevail, it will be dispiriting to Iranian dissidents.
So it’s all up for grabs. Let’s hope it ends well.