One of Venezuela’s most prominent intellectuals, Harvard economics professor Ricardo Hausmann, has just published an article that is raising eyebrows across the hemisphere: He is calling for a military intervention by the United States and other countries as the only way to end Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. In his Jan. 2 syndicated article, “D-Day Venezuela,” Hausmann proposes that Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly impeach dictator Nicolas Maduro and appoint a new constitutional government, which in turn could request military assistance from other countries. Hausmann argues that all other avenues for a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s crisis have been closed by Maduro. An international military “coalition of the willing” to support a new government appointed by the National Assembly would be legitimate and would have many historic precedents, he says. Venezuela’s independence hero, Simon Bolívar, himself gained the title of Liberator of Venezuela thanks to an 1814 invasion organized and financed by neighboring Nueva Granada (today’s Colombia), Hausmann argues. And France, Belgium and the Netherlands liberated themselves from oppressive regimes thanks to international military actions in World War II, he adds.
Hausmann, a former Venezuelan planning minister who heads Harvard’s Center for International Develop-ment, says that efforts to find a negotiated electoral solution to Venezuela’s growing humanitarian crisis are not going anywhere. Maduro has torpedoed such talks time and again. Since July, Maduro has appointed an unconstitutional Constituent Assembly to re-write the Constitution and replace key powers of the democratically elected National Assembly, has banned the three main opposition parties from putting up presidential candidates, and has stolen three municipal and regional elections. Furthermore, Hausmann argues that the Trump administration’s targeted financial and visa sanctions against top Venezuelan officials, which were started by President Barack Obama, won’t be enough to topple the regime.
It’s naive to think that, as the economy worsens, the government will lose power, or there will be a coup d’etat, he says. Senior military officers are so involved in smuggling, drug-trafficking and extra-judicial killings that they have a personal investment in keeping the regime afloat, he says.
After reading the story, I called Hausmann and asked him whether he thinks that there is the slightest chance that the United States and Latin American and European countries would support his military action proposal.
One of Latin America’s most sacred foreign policy principles following U.S. invasions in the 19th and 20th centuries has been opposition to U.S. interventions. Furthermore, polls show Trump is the most unpopular U.S. president in Latin America in recent history, I noted.
And on the U.S. front, despite Trump’s short-lived remark in August that he would not rule out a “military option” in Venezuela, it is extremely unlikely that the Trump administration would seriously consider that possibility at a time when it is struggling with bigger threats from North Korea and Iran, I added.
“Venezuelans are dying of hunger and lack of medicines, and Latin America’s attitudes are changing,” Hausmann replied. “Venezuela’s tragedy is so serious, and is deteriorating so rapidly, that awareness of its gravity is rising across the region.”
Hausmann is right in that current talks between the opposition and Maduro’s dictatorship are not likely to succeed because Maduro won’t allow free and fair elections. And one could argue in support of his argument that Venezuela is already invaded by a foreign country — Cuba, which virtually runs the Maduro regime.
But, judging from what I’m hearing from U.S. and Latin American diplomats, Hausmann’s proposal for a military intervention is highly unlikely to get off the ground.
Most Latin American countries have refused to even apply personal financial and visa sanctions against Venezuelan officials. Even the leaders of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Peru, who have been the most vocal critics of Maduro, would oppose a military intervention for fear of being called “U.S. lackeys” by the opposition in their respective countries.
And a U.S. call for a regional “military option” could backfire, giving Maduro ammunition to proclaim himself a victim of “U.S. imperialism.” What the international community should urgently do, in coordination with Venezuela’s opposition, is escalate diplomatic and targeted economic sanctions against Maduro unless he returns constitutional powers to the National Assembly and restores democratic rule.