As partisans bicker in the US, Venezuelans continue to suffer

As partisans bicker in the US, Venezuelans continue to suffer
© Getty Images

The chaos in Venezuela is generating chaos in American politics. While the catastrophic economic policies of Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship have caused mass hunger, thousands of deaths from easily treatable diseases and what is likely the worst refugee crisis in the history of the Americas, the left and the right in the United States are resorting to knee-jerk reactions that border on the absurd.

First, if you were to believe the American left, the Venezuelan collapse is the United States' fault. In a return to Cold War lingo, the left portrays the American government as an “imperialist” bad guy that is trying to impose its will on a small, defenseless, "third world" country.


That conveniently ignores that Cuba, Russia and China are the real international villains in Venezuela, acting far more like imperialists than is the United States.

According to Trump administration officials and former Venezuelan military officials, tens of thousands of Cuban military and security agents have thoroughly infiltrated Venezuela’s power structure and are propping up Maduro by sowing fear in the armed forces that any anti-dictatorship talk will land them behind bars.

Despite Venezuela’s dire economic circumstances, it still sends large, heavily subsidized shipments of oil to Cuba, which as effectively colonized Venezuela. 

Russia has also played a nefarious role. According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Russia ordered Maduro to stay in Venezuela even though he was set to flee soon after last week’s uprising.

Russia has tens of billions of dollars at stake in Venezuela, even owning oil fields there, which it has received over the past decade in exchange for loans and bailouts. Russia has also sent military troops, ships and planes to Venezuela.

China has dumped even more money into Venezuela, more than $50 billion. To repay that investment, Venezuela is sending the Chinese almost a third of all of its oil exports.

China, preferring to protect its economic interests over the welfare of the Venezuelan people, joined Russia in vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that called for free elections in Venezuela and unhindered humanitarian aid access.

Second, the left is usually at the vanguard of demanding respect for human rights. So why aren't they outraged over the Maduro regime’s abuses? All major international human rights authorities have condemned the horrific “systematic policy of repression” carried out by Maduro’s thugs.

How can the left not wholeheartedly condemn the documented abuses that include extrajudicial executions, torture involving electric shocks, asphyxiation and severe beatings, a crackdown on free speech and arbitrary arrests, including the detention of children?

Third, the American left is understandably concerned about income inequality and wealth distribution here and abroad.

So why are we hearing so little from them about how Maduro, and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have carried out socialist policies that have led to hyperinflation and so devastated the Venezuelan economy that 90 percent of Venezuelans are now living in poverty? For context, the average in the quarter century preceding Maduro was a little more than 40 percent.

Instead, PBS’ “Democracy Now,” which has been unrelenting in its criticism of U.S. policy toward Venezuela, gives voice to people like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Omar has accused the U.S. of bullying Venezuela to “eventually intervene and make regime change,” while claiming that "a lot of the policies that we have put in place have kind of helped lead to the devastation in Venezuela, and we've sort of set the stage for where we're arriving today." 

“Kind of”?” Sort of”? Do Omar and the anchors of the show not know about the Chavez/Maduro expropriations, confiscations, exchange controls, price controls and other socialist policies that devastated Venezuela’s private sector?

Do they not know about the what some experts believe is the world’s worst corruption, with even former Chavez officials estimating more than $300 billion disappeared in just a decade?

Do they not know that the Venezuelan economy had already collapsed by August 2017, when the U.S. announced its first broader sanctions? No country in the Americas or Western Europe has come close to suffering an economic calamity of this magnitude.

In blaming the U.S., the left also ignores the example of Iran. U.S. sanctions on Iran since the hostage crisis 40 years ago have far exceeded anything Venezuela has faced. But Iran’s poverty rate is about 20 percent, a fraction of Venezuela’s 90 percent.

Venezuela’s economy even had a big head start, with a GDP per capita in 1980 that was almost twice that of Iran’s. Even in 2000, soon after Chavez took power, Venezuela had a higher GDP per capita. After 20 years of "Chavismo," it’s now only half of Iran’s, probably less.

The American right’s response has been slightly more consistent, but muddled just the same. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Biden puts 9/11 era in rear view Intelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law Intelligence leaders warn of threats from China, domestic terrorism MORE (R-Fla.), whose constituencies are full of Cuban-Americans and a growing number of Venezuelan-Americans, have issued thinly-veiled calls for U.S. military to intervention in Venezuela. 

Those of a libertarian/isolationist bent oppose U.S. foreign intervention in principle and, by extension, don’t want American troops meddling in Venezuelan affairs.

Some, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, argue against sending the Marines by pointing out that recent American adventurism has failed around the world.

Carlson asked whether we’re “prepared for the refugees a Venezuelan war would inevitably produce,” citing a Brookings Institution study that found that the collapse of the Venezuelan government could force 8 million people to leave the country.

What Carlson missed in that Brookings study was that it stated the Venezuelan refugee crisis could reach that magnitude and surpass the Syrian crisis without a war.

Neoconservatives, including Pompeo and National Security Adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks On North Korea, Biden should borrow from Trump's Singapore declaration MORE are predictably rattling their sabers, teasing military intervention.

Bolton said the Trump administration is not afraid to use the Monroe Doctrine and that the U.S. would not allow Russia to take over a country in the Western Hemisphere. He forgets that Venezuela is a big country, with a serious military.

Even so, Bolton and Pompeo's boss has undercut them. After two years of saying “all options are on the table” in Venezuela, President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances Race debate grips Congress US reentry to Paris agreement adds momentum to cities' sustainability efforts MORE reportedly expressed frustration with the drumbeat of war.

Then, after talking with Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinKeeping China out of Taiwan will take a tough stand from Biden Putin gets second dose of Russian vaccine: report Kremlin says Biden-Putin summit contingent on US behavior MORE, Trump further undermined his senior aides by downplaying Russian involvement in Venezuela. As has often been the case, Trump believes what Putin says, not what Putin does.

So, while everyone bickers, an illegitimate dictator keeps starving his own people, swamping Venezuela’s neighbors with refugees and destroying what’s left of a country whose riches were once the envy of the developing world.

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." He is a Venezuelan and American lawyer who appears regularly on television as a Venezuelan-affairs analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @AMoraTV.