Protests have continued in Venezuela since 2014 as a reaction to the economic crisis that started under the leadership of Hugo Chavez and has continued under Nicolas Maduro. Following the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, declaring himself interim president of Venezuela on Thursday, the UN conducted an emergency session over the weekend where America voiced the need to “pick sides”.
The declaration by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2010 of an “economic war” has now escalated to what economists and officials are calling the worst crisis in Venezuelan history. Hyper inflation and food shortages has meant many citizens are on the brink of famine and poverty, with the ENCOVI finding that nearly 75% of the population has lost an average of almost 9kg in weight due to malnutrition. This economic crisis was reflected into the country’s socio-political sphere following the deaths of protesters in 2017, causing even more discontent with the government. As discontent grew, so did support for the leader of the Popular Will opposition party, Juan Guaido. Guaido has now declared himself as the interim president of Venezuela, with the UN emergency session over the weekend seeing support from many Western Countries including the Trump administration, France and the UK.
However, these moves of support by the West must be seen in light of previous Western Interventions in Latin America and their unpopularity as a result of the Washington Concensus – a set of economic policies applied to direct economically unstable countries. The legacy left by intervention in both Chile and Argentina has rightly caused suspicion around American support and readiness to interject. This is further emphasised by the status of Venezuela as one of the worlds largest established oil reserves, with 90% of their exports previously coming from oil. Although the US is condoning the Venezuelan government on the grounds of Maduro imposing a defacto dictatorship, questions have surfaced surrounding if this motivation is indeed purely based on democratic values and international norms, or if it is more so grounded in economic and strategic incentive. Regardless of incentive, American Intervention would remove the agency of Venezuelans to manoeuvre the change in regime that they have the right to dictate.
Whilst the verbal international recognition of Guaido as interim president over the weekend has accelerated his legitimacy, any economic or military intervention would add an international complexity that would make the Venezuelan’s people struggle subject to international influence and containment. If the West’s rally cry for democracy is one of transparent legitimacy, there must be respect for Venezuelan agency and sovereignty.
If the actions of Maduro accelerate to become representative of a more violent and oppressive regime where it is appropriate for the Right to Protect legislation to be implemented, only then should there be steps towards discussions of regional interference. Due to its controversial and imperialist past, Western intervention should be reserved only for a last option scenario. The Venezuelan people must remain at the forefront of the regime change, specifically through Juan Guaido as the leader of the opposition as he seems to be the only viable option.
What does the other side say?
During the emergency UN session, American Delegate Michael Pompeo argued for the need of an international observation of re-election due to the majority of Venezuelans living in poverty, and the overwhelming number of political prisoners taken in during Maduro’s rule. The french echoed this in stating that international interventions are necessary as the crisis is spilling over into neighbouring countries, whilst Peru agreed due to the 700,000 Venezuelan migrants that the country has received since the crackdown on opposition started.