The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has escalated under President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime.
Inflation has risen to an estimated annual rate of 1 million percent, infant mortality rates have increased by ten percent, 90 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty and the country’s migrant crisis is second only to Syria’s.
After holding rigged elections last May, Maduro was sworn into a second six-year term Jan. 10. Voluntad Popular, the party opposing Maduro, learned that elections no longer matter in Venezuela.
The opposition pronounced National Assembly Leader Juan Guaidó as the new president of Venezuela on Jan. 23, effectively creating two opposing presidents of Venezuela — Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó. This was the right move.
His inauguration was followed by mass anti-Maduro riots in the streets of Caracas that left 10 people dead. Guaidó subsequently tweeted “To their families, I can only guarantee that justice and peace will reign in our homeland.”
The world will be watching with anticipation to see if he can fulfill that promise. However, on the same day, the United States and other Western nations may have set back Guaidó’s attempt to restore peace by officially recognizing Guaidó as the new president of Venezuela.
Instead of reverting back to its old ways of interfering in Latin American democracies, the U.S. should wait until Guaidó wins over political support of Venezuelans. As of this writing, Maduro still has considerable popular support, controls the military and is recognized by China, Russia and Cuba as the official president of Venezuela.
The U.S. recognized a president who lacks critical executive powers. This may embolden Maduro to use the military to arrest or kill Guaidó and ruin the hope for democracy in Venezuela. Additionally, Maduro has harped on anti-imperialist rhetoric in an attempt to write off his challenger as a “puppet president.”
This anti-imperialist rhetoric provides an excuse for Russia and China to continue providing their support to Maduro. However, labeling Guaidó a Manchurian candidate has not damaged his political legitimacy as anti-Maduro demonstrations persist.
Furthermore, in backing the opposition, the U.S. is picking sides against powers like Russia and China.
As in Syria, we may see tensions in the international order play out in a civil war in Venezuela. Pro-Maduro nations such as Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua pitted against the U.S. in a Venezuelan civil war would have the potential to destabilize the entire region.
After the U.S. viewed Guaidó as the legitimate president, Maduro announced he would break off diplomatic ties with the U.S. and gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.
Recognizing the opposition would entail that Juan Guaidó's administration place diplomats in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C. However, it is unknown if the new government is capable of doing that, and logistical issues are being raised about what to do with the Maduro-appointed diplomats still in the U.S.
With the American embassy in Caracas closed, the U.S. will be left with fewer diplomatic tools to peacefully find a path to democracy if Guaidó’s movement fails. Once Maduro isolates himself from the outside world, there is a greater risk of one of the nations in this standoff will escalate the situation. With this crisis already bearing many parallels to the crisis in Syria the outcome will not shock the conscience as one might expect.
Morally, the U.S. was right to cooperate with Juan Guaidó’s opposition to end the suffering brought on by the Maduro regime. However, by doing so the U.S. has jumped the gun in interfering in an already volatile transfer of power, further jeopardizing the future stability of Venezuela.
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