I’m generally opposed to foreign intervention. American meddling often makes bad situations worse — Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Cuba are all testaments to this. The only people to benefit from America’s interventions are the defense contractors and dictators who lobby for them. I once thought Venezuela would be no different: another oil-rich country where the US tries to topple a dictator, only to see a worse one take the mantle (if the country doesn’t descend into civil war first).
In countries like Iraq or Afghanistan without a history of democracy, it’s difficult to suddenly install a liberal democratic regime and expect it to survive without an American occupation force. Instead, other groups use violence to gain power. But the unique circumstances of Venezuela make intervention a realistic option for improving the lives of Venezuelans.
The current situation in Venezuela is often compared to past American coups in Latin America. In the most famous example — Chile in 1973 — a U.S.-backed military regime overthrew democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. In Nicaragua in the ‘80s, the socialist government was engaged in a civil war with American-backed guerillas, the Contras.
The history of U.S. involvement understandably makes many leftists side with the Venezuelan government: it holds elections, is socialist, and controls the largest oil reserve in the world. To them, it seems the US is just reliving its imperialist past by trying to depose Maduro’s government.
His regime, though, is nothing like Allende’s, and Venezuela has a far greater democratic tradition than Iraq. But Venezuela has elections in much the same way that North Korea or Russia have them — all the trappings of democracy, with ballot boxes, voting booths, maybe even a selection of candidates — but without any real choice of outcomes. In Venezuela, elections are held so that the regime looks better to the outside world, even though they’re nothing but a sham. Meanwhile, many citizens only vote at all to get food and have their name on a government list of supporters. The alternative is starvation or emigration. While the socialist regime in Venezuela had majority support until 2008, it has since stayed in power through pure repression. It has no democratic legitimacy.
Venezuela still retains vestiges of its democratic past, like the national assembly. While the regime controls the military and the supreme court, it never established full control over the government. Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, a new democratic government would not be starting from scratch, trying to convince various ethnic and religious groups that to trust the results of elections. By removing Maduro, the U.S. would restore the status quo known by Venezuelans before the 2000 Chavista takeover, instead of introducing the country to a radical, untested system of government.
You should always be wary of U.S. intervention in foreign countries In Venezuela, though, a corrupt dictatorship would be eliminated, and Venezuela’s recent history of democratic government makes further deterioration unlikely.