Foreign Policy

Venezuela: Cold War Renewed

For Trump, it's not only about standing against socialism; it's about standing against old enemies.

Thomas Gallatin · May 1, 2019

Following months of gridlock, Venezuelans, encouraged by the rightfully elected and U.S.-backed interim president Juan Guaido and his call for the military to rise up against socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro, heeded his Operacion Liebertad and took to the streets on Tuesday. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraged the action, stating, “The U.S. Government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated.”

Thus far the Russian-backed strongman Maduro has refused to budge and instead sent military troops still loyal to his regime to forcefully quell the uprising. This resulted in another Tiananmen Square moment, as shocking video footage surfaced of military vehicles intentionally running over unarmed protesters.

While several dozen troops joined Guaido and clashed with other troops still loyal to Maduro, the conflict has not yet escalated into a forced takeover by Guaido. In fact, he is not in a position to do so — not without gaining majority support from the military. It’s a bold yet risky move by Guaido. Should he fail, it would almost definitely lead to his arrest or worse.

According to Pompeo, the only reason Maduro is still able to cling to power is due to Russian and Cuban support. “It’s been a long time since anyone has seen Maduro. He had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay,” Pompeo said. He added, “We’ve made clear all along … that Maduro is surrounded by Cubans and has been supported by Russians there in Venezuela. And we’ve told the Russians and we’ve told the Cubans, ‘That’s unacceptable.’ It’s unacceptable to starve people. It’s unacceptable to not allow sick children to get their medicine.”

The situation is shaping up like a Cold War-era proxy war, and President Donald Trump will have to decide to what degree the U.S. will involve itself in this political conflict beyond offering verbal and humanitarian support. With the Russians, Chinese, and Cubans all backing Maduro, there is much more at stake than merely ousting a socialist dictator.

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