Rubio's wrong: Don't send the Marines into Venezuela

Rubio's wrong: Don't send the Marines into Venezuela
© Greg Nash

Most Venezuelans are grateful to Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioNikki Haley: New York Times ‘knew the facts’ about curtains and still released story March For Our Lives founder leaves group, says he regrets trying to 'embarrass' Rubio Rubio unloads on Turkish chef for 'feasting' Venezuela's Maduro: 'I got pissed' MORE (R-Fla.) for his powerful and consistent advocacy on their behalf and against the criminal Maduro dictatorship that has enslaved and starved 30 million of them.

But now, Rubio has allowed his understandable frustration with the Venezuelan crisis and the suffering it has generated to cloud his better judgment.

In an interview with Miami’s local Univision station, Rubio said his hope for restoring democracy peacefully in Venezuela was, in effect, a pipe dream.

ADVERTISEMENT

He may be right; not because a peaceful solution is impossible but because efforts by the international community to solve the crisis have been poorly coordinated and undercut with impunity by Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and, to a lesser extent, small Caribbean nations whose votes at the Organization of American States have been bought by Venezuelan oil largesse.

Rubio then seemed to reluctantly argue that U.S. military intervention might be needed. On this, he’s wrong. He said U.S. armed forces should only be used in the event of a threat to national security, but believes “that there is a very strong argument [...] that Venezuela and the Maduro regime has [sic] become a threat to the region and even to the United States.”

Of that, there can be no doubt, and the list of reasons is long:

  • Venezuela has become a “narco-state,” where powerful members of the government are actively involved in facilitating the international drug trade to the U.S. and Europe. 
  • Reuters reported Venezuela has 5000 MANPADS, the shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down commercial jetliners.
  • CNN found evidence that the Venezuelan government has provided passports to people linked to Hezbollah.
  • Venezuela has become an increasingly strong ally of Russia, China, Iran, Syria and even North Korea.
  • Crashing oil production has helped prop up oil prices, and further anarchy in Venezuela could seriously disrupt international oil markets.
  • Eradicated diseases are reappearing, including malaria and measles. An article in The Lancet, a medical journal, stated the malaria epidemic threatens the whole region.
  • Most important, right now, is that the flood of refugees fleeing hunger, repression and economic chaos is destabilizing Venezuela’s neighbors and causing a humanitarian crisis only rivaled by Syria’s.

The question, of course, is whether any of that would justify sending in the Marines. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE has certainly flirted with the idea. He reportedly pressed his aides just last month about using the military option in Venezuela, something he also raised publicly in August of 2017.

The idea was shot down then by regional leaders, just as it was shot down now. Mercosur, a trade bloc whose full members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, warned that “the only acceptable means of promoting democracy are dialogue and diplomacy.”

Good luck with that. Maduro and his henchmen have never negotiated in anything remotely resembling good faith. Some of his top officials have been indicted in the U.S., while he and others could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity if they were to leave the country.

They have no incentive to step aside, and the international community has failed to pressure the regime or provide some sort of acceptable exit plan.

Facing ever-receding hopes for a peaceful transition to democracy, the calls for U.S. or other military intervention are once again gaining momentum, as evidenced by Rubio’s comments. Most Venezuelan exiles appear to be on board. They believe that a majority inside Venezuela are as well.

In the past, polls had shown most Venezuelans opposed U.S. intervention, but many analysts believe that has changed because the humanitarian crisis has gotten dramatically worse. 

As I wrote in The Hill more than a year ago, unilateral U.S. intervention is folly and it’s not going to happen. There’s no appetite in the U.S. for another war, and Venezuela is no Panama or Grenada, so thoughts of a “splendid little war” are absurd.

Venezuela is about 12 times the size of Panama and more than twice the size of Iraq. The Venezuelan military is large and relatively well-equipped. 

Some well-respected Venezuelan leaders in exile, including Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas until he was thrown in prison by the Maduro regime, and Diego Arria, a former president of the U.N. Security Council and governor of Caracas, have called for “international humanitarian intervention,” as distinguished from “international humanitarian aid.”

Aid has shamelessly been rejected by Maduro, who seems to prefer to have his people suffer than to admit his country is in shambles.

This week, Arria asked me: “How can we liberate ourselves from a narco-military state run by criminals under Cuban control if not by outside intervention?”

Arria also said, “We have exhausted all institutional means at a great and tragic cost for our people,” insisting that an international humanitarian intervention would be “extremely popular.”

When asked what that would involve, he agreed that unilateral American intervention is a non-starter, but called for an “Inter-American” force, comprised of troops from Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada and the U.S. 

The big question, of course, is how humanitarian intervention would work. How can any intervention not turn into a hot war? Also, given the lack of political will evidenced by countries in the region so far, the creation of an Inter-American force would appear to be a long shot.

However, the tipping point may be nearing. The refugee crisis has already forced Brazil and Colombia to deploy troops to their borders with Venezuela. Other countries in the region are struggling to deal with the Venezuelan influx and are concerned about the various ways the crisis will affect their security.

Before any intervention is considered, the U.S. and Europe must present a united front and intensify the pressure on Maduro, even imposing an oil embargo if he refuses to go. An embargo would, in the short-term, have negative consequences in the U.S. and increase suffering inside Venezuela. But it is likely the last weapon left in the diplomatic arsenal.

The alternative is to allow criminals to abuse and starve an entire nation and to allow the Venezuelan catastrophe to beget further chaos throughout the Americas.

Antonio Mora (@AMoraTV) is the editor-in-chief of NewsandNews.com and a lecturer at the University of Miami School of Communication. He is a former news anchor for Good Morning America and a former host of Al Jazeera America's primetime International News Hour. He is both a Venezuelan and American lawyer who appears regularly on television as a Venezuelan-affairs analyst.