Venezuela may seem like an unlikely fault line on the world stage; however, the Venezuela Problem has been a point of contention for years. With the death of Marxist totalitarian Hugo Chavez in 2013, his successor Nicolas Maduro consolidated power in the country even more than his predecessor, and also strengthened ties with Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and North Korea. However, these foreign relations have done nothing to help quell the growing unrest and economic depression that the country is now suffering.
Inflation recently hit 1,000,000%, medical supplies are running low, people are eating out of bins or eating their pets, and the streets are covered in rubbish. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and should be incredibly wealthy, however yet again we see the Marxist mismanagement of an economy playing out in real time.
Russia sent two nuclear bombers to Venezuela last month in a show of strength for the regime and plans to establish a base in the country in the near future. This support from Moscow has not stemmed the growing feeling of rebellion in the country, a feeling which has increased significantly over the last few days. This is because America, Britain, Brazil, and many other countries have chosen to recognize an opposition figure, Juan Guaido, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Guaido leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, yet at the moment he is reportedly hiding in the Colombian Embassy in the capital city Caracas.
Nicolas Maduro’s hold on power is guaranteed by the backing of the Army and Police, and away from their protection, he has very little support or control. The United States has tried every diplomatic avenue imaginable and numerous sanctions in an effort to remove him, but all to no avail.
The protests in the country this week involved hundreds of thousands of people, and seven people were killed by police firing live ammunition. The high unemployment rate means that people, especially young men, have a lot of free time, and so there is little chance of demonstrations dying down anytime soon.
President Trump has refused to take any options off the table, though the prospect of military action still seems unlikely. On Friday Russia sent 400 armed personnel, known by geopolitical commentators since Crimea as ‘Little Green Men’, to boost Maduro’s security in the capital city, a factor which makes the situation all the more delicate.
US diplomats were expelled from the country this week, and are currently leaving as quickly as they can. They are not the only people leaving, for over the last few years millions of Venezuelans have become migrants, fleeing to Colombia, Brazil or elsewhere. This is why President Trump is perhaps hesitant on using military force, simply because it could significantly increase the already dire Central American migrant crisis; that is if any action proved to be prolonged. If this, in turn, caused more migrants to cross the border, this would cause his poll ratings to plummet – ratings which are already suffering after he caved to the Democrats’ demands and dropped proposals for border wall funding.
Meanwhile, Guaido has appealed for military commanders, police officers and other well-known figures to side with his cause, although this has been met with largely deaf ears. He has also appealed for IMF loans, and wants to privatize the country’s potentially world-beating oil industry; something which has raised the speculation of foreign interference with regards to the funding, and more importantly the future direction, of his actions.
Whatever the outcome of the current turmoil shaking the country, it is quite likely that this will be a major flashpoint in the weeks ahead. If a conflict or revolution does occur, the diplomacy and strategy of both Trump and Jair Bolsonaro will surely be put to the test. This will give the populist-nationalist movement an opportunity to prove itself on the world stage, something which is badly needed after recent political setbacks.