Question posed by Latin America Advisor
Q: Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro this month said that a “military intervention to overthrow” Venezuelan President Nicolas Madura shouldn’t be ruled out. Almagro’s comments echoed remarks a year ago by U.S. President Donald Trump that he wouldn’t take a “military option” in Venezuela off the table. How likely is a foreign military intervention in Venezuela? How would it take shape, and who would orchestrate it? Would such an action be justified, and what would be the most likely outcome and consequences of foreign troops in Venezuela?
A: The responsibility for resolving the tragedies of Venezuela still rests primarily with Venezuelans. Outside pressures must continue and increase. All the Venezuelan players, particularly an opposition that unites, and legitimate officials in exile, must focus on working together to achieve peaceful, democratic, constitutional transition; this requires true political will by all the players. The ‘carrot’ here for a new Venezuela must be international humanitarian, financial and economic aid to accompany political change. Time is not on either Venezuelan side. The Venezuelan military can still provide the impetus for change; such a role is hardly a ‘coup’ and Article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution clearly permits it. U.S. diplomacy should accompany all these efforts. Thoughts of foreign military intervention are understandable due to the emigration of millions of Venezuelans seeking relief. Such a move could only come credibly from the countries most affected—the immediate region. Political justification would have to accompany it—by regional governments, the OAS and the United Nations. Such efforts would require unprecedented political will, and could and should involve the legitimate elected legislature, Supreme Court and other such leaders, including those in exile. Support from countries beyond the region— and a prime U.S. role—would be essential. Such responses are akin to what is done to deal with natural disaster destruction. The sad alternatives are continued humanitarian crisis, pressures on neighboring and regional countries, and worse breakdown in Venezuela. Finally, the notion of U.S. military intervention without a prime regional role—in the absence of overriding U.S. national interest and with the promise of American responsibility for picking up the pieces—is a gigantic non-starter.
Ambassador John F. Maisto served as U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2003 to 2007, Venezuela from 1997 to 2000, and Nicaragua from 1993 to 1996. He served as Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs for National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice.