Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Americanizing the Venezuelan Crisis

Here is the text of Donald Trump's speech in Miami yesterday about Venezuela. The administration is pushing very hard to Americanize the crisis, to suck up as much of the attention as possible. In his book U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions, Michael Grow makes the case that presidents chose regime change not because of economic or national security interests, but for a combination of three other factors:

1. U.S. international credibility
2. U.S. domestic politics
3. Latin American lobbying

#2 is so strong here it's palpable. The speech is all about connecting Democratic candidates to Venezuelan socialism. Yes, it is also about whipping up hardliners in Florida. In that's sense it's easy red meat, but there is a broader, more national strategy.

As a result, Trump and others (especially Marco Rubio) desperately want credit for overthrowing Nicolás Maduro. This Americanizes the crisis and increases the perception that things are being driven by the White House and not by the opposition. As you read, you can see the "USA!USA!" chants during the speech--this is good old nationalistic drum pounding. Let's go get the bad guys. Marco Rubio goes to the border and lectures the Venezuelan military (and my goodness, check out the replies to my tweet on that subject. Hoo boy!). In the speech, Trump threatens the Venezuelan military yet again--it's been threatened numerous times at this point.

This is a very risky proposition. The chances of an invasion going smoothly is slim and the chances of long-term instability are high. Now, maybe that doesn't matter for 2020. Invade, kick out Maduro, and proclaim victory. It depends on how unstable the country is at that point.

My own take is that the more you Americanize the situation, the worse the eventual result for the average Venezuelan. It badly undermines whatever government comes next and increases the chances of armed insurrection. The U.S. should stay in the background as much as possible and let Juan Guaidó do all the talking. But that isn't going to happen.


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