Supporting the Needs and Aspirations of the Venezuelan People

Washington, D.C. As the crisis in Venezuela continues to unfold, we must remain focused on supporting the Venezuelan people. Specifically, the United States must anchor our approach firmly in supporting legitimate democratic processes and providing Venezuelans effective humanitarian assistance. Politicizing humanitarian aid and recklessly threatening a military intervention may seem like good politics for some, but it will do nothing to alleviate the crisis and the suffering of the Venezuelan people. 

There is no question: Nicolas Maduro is illegitimate. Brought into his second term in a rigged election, the handpicked successor to Hugo Chavez has overseen a Venezuela that has the highest murder rate in the world, a 90 percent poverty rate, and hyperinflation that has reached over 1 million percent. Maduro’s troops have blocked his own people from receiving humanitarian aid with deadly live fire. The Venezuelan people deserve the rights and protections granted by a democratically elected and accountable government.

Though they claim to share that goal, the Trump administration and its Republican allies’ bellicose approach risks harming both the Venezuelan people and America’s interests in the region. America’s tools to alleviate Venezuela’s humanitarian plight and support its democratic aspirations extend well beyond military threats and bombastic rhetoric. 

Legislators and policymakers must keep their focus on the wellbeing of the Venezuelan people by embracing several basic principles:

There are no military options. Threats of military engagement -- from President Trump’s assertion that “all options are on the table” to Senator Marco Rubio’s tweets of images of violently deposed dictators -- are political, ideological, and delusional. 

The Trump administration is playing politics rather than thinking through the reality of what military involvement in Venezuela would actually look like: door-to-door fighting in the urban center of Caracas, vigorous resistance by both state security forces and armed local militias, mass civilian casualties incurred in any air bombing campaign, and the potential for a long-term U.S. occupation of a neighbor in our hemisphere. American military action will bring us no closer to ending the suffering of the Venezuelan people or restoring democracy. Our Latin American neighbors harbor acute memories of “gunboat diplomacy.” Even the hint of intervention threatens our relationships with much needed partners and allies in the region. That is why the European Union, the Lima Group, and even former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have rejected military intervention in Venezuela.

Venezuelans need humanitarian aid, not a political stunt. The provision of essential supplies to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation is an urgent priority, and Maduro’s blocking of aid again proves his despotism and the need for a leadership transition. But we cannot allow the Trump administration to politicize aid, or -- in the worst case -- use stockpiles of aid at the border as a pretext for American intervention. 

We must work with our partners and international institutions, including the UN, to ensure that aid reaches the people who need it immediately, as well as prepare the longer term economic and political support that Venezuelans will require to ensure a peaceful return to democracy and prosperity. Doing so will require a substantial financial investment from the United States and our partners, and U.S. leadership would surely galvanize more support from the international community and lending institutions. 

We must support Venezuelan refugees. Those fleeing Maduro’s regime must not face the threat of deportation or economic deprivation -- whether in the United States or in the region. 

At home, that means calling for the humane and strategic asylum policies that the Trump administration has rejected, including a halt to deportations by extending Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan refugees, as Democratic lawmakers have proposed. In the region, it means enhancing the capacity of neighboring countries, particularly Colombia, to host those fleeing poverty and violence.

Multilateral diplomacy is the only way forward. Our efforts to support a democratic transition will not be effective unless we both work closely with our partners -- especially those in the region -- and also smartly navigate the competing interests of countries that wield significant sway with Maduro, including China, Cuba, and Russia. 

This multilateral coalition must insist on near-term elections so that the Venezuelan people can choose their own president.

Sanctions should be carefully calibrated. We must work with our partners and allies to coordinate sanctions against the Maduro regime for maximum targeted impact. 

At the same time, however, we should be cautious of approaches that harm the Venezuelan people while entrenching Maduro and his cronies.

Our support for democracy and human rights is consistent and global. Illiberalism and autocracy are on the rise globally, and while Trump has chosen to call out Maduro, he has embraced many of his authoritarian counterparts, from Mohammed bin Salman to Vladimir Putin. 

We must call out assaults on democracy everywhere, not just in places where the president finds it convenient for his political and business interests. We will be in a stronger position to promote our values in Venezuela and around the world if we live them at home and hold autocratic regimes to account with greater consistency.

Ned Price