A Reality Check on Our Absurd Venezuela Policy

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Trump administration is running into the stubborn reality that the “government” they recognize in Venezuela doesn’t actually control anything:

It is a risky gamble for Mr. Maduro’s adversaries, who say they are unclear as to how they will break the blockade at the border on Saturday.

While Mr. Guaidó is regarded by the Trump administration as Venezuela’s rightful president, the White House is facing the reality that Mr. Maduro still controls the military, and with it, the state.

“If the opposition – and Trump administration – are trying to find ways to peel away military support for Maduro, threatening its monopoly on food distribution is not likely to be helpful in that regard,” said Cynthia J. Arnson, the Latin America director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The opposition wants to use aid deliveries to emphasize Maduro’s illegitimacy, but if they cannot bring the aid in and deliver it because Maduro has the ability to prevent them from doing so it really just underscores how impotent the self-declared president is. Military officers aren’t likely to take the risk of defecting to the opposition side when they are in such a weak position, and without those defections the attempt at regime change cannot succeed. Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions will further devastate an already ravaged economy, and the civilian population’s misery will deepen.

The US shouldn’t be in the business of recognizing would-be governments when those governments have no ability to govern their country. By extending that recognition to Guaido and his allies when their authority hasn’t been recognized by the military, the Trump administration was both premature and reckless. Now the US is in the absurd position of supporting a “legitimate” government with no power. That isn’t lost on Venezuelans:

The uncertainty has left some in Venezuela not counting on aid anytime soon.

“They say they are in charge of the government, but the ones who are in charge are the ones who control the bridge,” said Héctor Cárdenas, 52, who crossed the border to buys a month’s worth of cooking oil, vegetables, soap and medicines in Colombia. “The opposition has no real power.”

Furthermore, that would-be government cannot take power as long as the military remains loyal to the de facto president, and the “chief political weapon” that the opposition has at its disposal is the misguided abuse of humanitarian aid for political purposes. U.S. interference isn’t making it easier to resolve this crisis, and the U.S. should not have involved itself in Venezuela’s affairs.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history…

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