Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 14, 2017
In the midst of rising belligerent talk about military strikes on North Korea, President Trump dropped word of the severe financial and street problems in Venezuela, adding that “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option.”
I had to read it a few times. Maybe he had meant we were ready to help Venezuela with additional food or medicine, or some kind of diplomatic arrangement to help the leadership there to bring calm to the streets. No, it was a military threat, right alongside the North Korean threats.
Then the President refused to speak to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who had called the White House, which added that Mr. Trump would gladly talk with Maduro when he returned democracy to the country. In recent weeks, Maduro has staged a constitutional upset to grab all government control and to eliminate political opponents. Against that background, the nation’s economy has ground to a halt, and people are lining up everywhere just to find food basics.
Mr. Trump, who said, “Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they’re dying” before adding the military thought.
Ernesto Villegas, the Venezuelan communications minister, Ernesto Villegas, in a television interview, called Mr. Trump’s remark “an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty. Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Patrino Lopez said Mr. Trump’s remark was “an act of supreme extremism,” adding that, “As our minister of defense and a Venezuelan citizen, I say it is an act of madness.” The president of Venezuela’s new Constituent Assembly — the controversial body elected to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution amid the country’s political crisis — fired off a series of tweets late Friday slamming Trump’s remarks as “cowardly, insolent and vile threats.” Assembly president and former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez added in her tweets that “insults and aggressions” against Nicolas Maduro would be rejected by the “anti-imperialist people of Venezuela.” And Maduro’s son said he should take over the White House by force.
The Washington Post noted that since the July 30 vote, the value of the local currency, the bolívar, has fluctuated more wildly than ever, a significant feat for a country saddled with the world’s highest inflation rate. As a result, street prices for staples such as bread and tomatoes have doubled in less than two weeks. New estimates from the large Venezuelan data firm Ecoanalítica suggest that the economy could shrink 10.4 percent this year, exacerbating a four-year nose dive that some economists already call worse than the United States’ Great Depression.
“Since the start of this Administration, President Trump has asked that Maduro respect Venezuela’s constitution, hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, cease all human rights violations, and stop oppressing Venezuela’s great people,” the White House said in a statement late Friday night. “The Maduro regime has refused to heed this call, which has been echoed around the region and the world. Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship.”
Exactly how a U.S. military invasion would help restore an economy is not readily understandable. If anything, it is another example of the President using loose talk about a foreign power without setting up a clear, understandable goal. Congressional Republicans, including Sen. Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, were quick to denounce the Trump threats. Indeed, the White House has dispatched Vice President to neighboring Colombia, Argentina and Chile just to put an exclamation point on their policies, which, not unexpectedly, have drawn an immediate rebuke not to threaten Latin American nations with military strikes.
CNN noted that The Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela after a July 30 vote that allowed Maduro to replace the opposition-dominated National Assembly with a new 545-member Constituent Assembly filled with his supporters. Protests have rocked the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities, both before the vote and in response to the recent political moves. More than 120 people have died in protest-linked incidents since April. The United Nations’ human rights office said earlier this month that Venezuelan security forces have used excessive force and arbitrarily detained thousands of people.
Yes, the United States has a powerful military. No, we don’t just blithely threaten other countries with invasion or bombardment. And yes, we do expect an understandable foreign policy.
We can do better.