Articles

Don’t Ignore Venezuela

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Venezuelan Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez (left) and the members of his failed 1992 coup in prison. Chavez catapulted into fame because of his efforts to take power “for the people.” He also became known for his Por Ahora speech in which he urged his fellow co-conspirators to lay down their arms and surrender their fight–for now.

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

Overview

Venezuela has been in free-fall for some time. Blessed with a vibrant population and an abundance of natural resources, Venezuela became dominated by the Socialist government of Hugo Chavez. In 2002, senior elements of the George W. Bush Administration are believed to have backed a covert coup attempt to unseat Chavez, which ended in failure. From then on, the Chavez government was not only virulently anti-American, but they began exporting their extreme anti-Americanism to the whole region. Not since Fidel Castro and his blood-drenched henchman, Che Guevarra, had a Latin American socialist dictator proved to be such a threat to U.S. interests in Latin America.

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Chavez promised a “Bolivarian Revolution” based on the liberationist principles of “South America’s George Washington,” Simón Bolivar.

Now, as Venezuela devours itself in the typical death-cycle of socialism, the United States ignores the collapse of one of our most important southern neighbors to its own detriment. Indeed, as you will see, the collapse of Venezuela is not only a human tragedy, but a chance for rival states with ill-intentions for the U.S. to assert undue influence in the region, as well as for destabilizing elements–in the form of mass migration–to yet again threaten the U.S. southwestern border. This will also threaten stalwart American allies, notably Colombia, as instability from neighboring Venezuela leeches into Colombia.

Chavismo: Karl Marx Meets Pablo Neruda

During Chavez’s reign, it was not simply classic anti-Americanism that dominated Venezuela, but a willingness to partner with international enemies of the U.S. that defined the Chavez foreign policy. Over the course of his reign, Chavez aligned Venezuela with a litany of countries that the U.S. had deemed to be “Rogue States.” Notably, Venezuela became an integral partner for the Islamic Republic of Iran in South America. Understanding this link is vital, since their alliance with Iran is but one of a handful of major alliances that Venezuela has used to shield it from America’s ire over the years.

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For instance, in 2008, South America was almost ripped apart by a potential war between Ecuador and the stalwart American partner, Colombia. Ecuador was one of Venezuela’s closest allies in the region. After Colombia’s decades-long war with the Communist insurgency known as FARC escalated, the Colombians launched “Operation Phoenix.” This was a brilliant maneuver by the Colombians aimed at removing one of the most notorious FARC leaders, Raúl Reyes (his real name was Luis Édgar Devia Silva). Reyes and his compatriots had been staging attacks against Colombian citizens and military from safe havens just across the border in Ecuador. Much like al Qaeda operating out of Pakistan, or the North Vietnamese attacks U.S. forces from Cambodia, FARC understood that the Colombians were reticent to retaliate against them, so long as they were operating from Ecuadorian territory.

But, given that Reyes was one of the most notorious terrorists in the world, the Colombians decided to act. They did not alert the Ecuadorian government for much the same reason that the Obama Administration did not alert the Pakistani government during the Bin Laden Raid in 2011: the Colombians feared the Ecuadorian government would alert Reyes to the raid. They were right. As would later be determined from electronic intelligence recovered from Reyes’ hideout, FARC was not only in cahoots with the Ecuadorian government, but he was having weekly hours-long phone conversations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez himself.

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FARC leader Raúl Reyes was an incredibly violent terrorist.

Indeed, the Colombians were able to hone in on the elusive Reyes’ location because of signals intelligence that they had been collecting on neighboring Chavez. In response to the attacks, the Ecuadorians made diplomatic hey out of being wrongly attacked and demanded reparations parsed out by the international community. For its part, Colombia was happy to oblige the Ecuadorian request, since they had the evidence proving that Ecuador and Venezuela were conspiring with FARC to support narco-terror-related attacks within Colombia. Ecuador has had a complex history with Colombia and Venezuela under Chavez was committed to rolling back American influence in South America. Colombia, in Chavez’s eyes, was the key conduit for American influence in the region. Chavez saw FARC as a vital means of destabilizing Colombia from within, thereby neutering America’s strategic reach into Venezuela’s proverbial backyard. It is no surprise that Chavez repeatedly made unfavorable comparisons between Israel and Colombia.

The Venezuelan-Iranian connection seems a bit incongruous to the untrained observer. After all, Venezuela is classic Latin American tinpot Left-wing dictatorship masquerading as a social movement for the poor. It is deeply rooted in the kind of Third World Socialist movements that defined the region from the 1960s onward. At its crux is not only the cult of personality around its (now deceased) dictator, Hugo Chavez, but also the secular worship of the central government. Although Iran is a totalitarian regime with similar levels of statism, they are also a theocracy deeply rooted in the Mahdīst (or, Twelver) branch of Shia Islam. What’s more, there is neither geographical nor serious ethnographic linkages shared between either Iran or Venezuela. The relationship is, therefore, purely predicated on anti-Americanism backed by very specific trade.

Venezuela sits atop the largest oil deposit outside of the Middle East. In the 1970s, as the rest of the world was undergoing the “oil crisis”, the Venezuelan economy surged ahead. In fact, during this time, thanks to Venezuela’s status as “Little Saudi” in the oil community, Venezuelan standard of living increased significantly. Equality between the sexes reached historic levels during this time, as the literacy rate jumped from 77% to 93%. During the 1970s, the exchange rate was four bolivares to the U.S. dollar. Any Miami resident old enough to remember would tell you about the dáme-dos or, the “give-me-twos.” These were Venezuelans (of all classes) who had benefited from such great exchange rates that they would take the morning flight from Caracas (the Venezuelan capital) up to Miami and spend the day shopping and dining in Miami. Invariably, they would see things they’d like to buy in Miami, and upon seeing how everything was so cheap in Miami, they would insist on buying two of everything (hence, the dáme-dos moniker).

But, by the 1980s, this prosperity proved fleeting. Soon, the country’s economy sunk into record-level debt (the highest in all of South America). In spite of the enormous oil wealth conferred upon their country, the Venezuelan politicians were increasingly incompetent and corrupt. Capital flight intensified over time, as the country’s political situation became untenable, and life for most Venezuelans deteriorated to unacceptable levels (especially compared to the enormous wealth generated for most Venezuelans during the 1970s). To compound matters, the vast oil wealth was denigrated by a drop in global oil price, meaning that Venezuela was simply using the money generated by its oil to service its massive debts. This set the stage for the rise of the mid-ranking Venezuelan paratrooper, Hugo Chavez, who became known as a fiery populist promising a “Bolivarian Revolution.”

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Hugo Chavez in the red beret and green fatigues that he became famous for wearing.

After being jailed in a failed coup against the Venezuelan government in 1992, Chavez was pardoned a few years later and immediately started molding his Far Left ideology into a viable political movement. By 1998, the majority of Venezuelans were so disgusted by their incompetent and corrupt government, that more than half of Venezuelans refused to vote in the presidential election of that year (compared to the 81% participation rate in the 1992 election). As we’ve seen with current nationalistic-populist movements (of both the Left and Right), when there is usually a lower turnout in voters, the more radical candidates have a tendency to perform better than they normally would. This was the case in 1998. It came down to a battle between two radical candidates, Henrique Salas Römer and Hugo Chavez.

Chavez won.

He was also granted a massive, friendly majority in the country’s legislative branch. What soon followed were copious “reforms” to the country’s constitution, which Chavez claimed in the name of “democracy,” but were, in fact, quite undemocratic. The key to his power was Chavez’s oratorical skills, the fact that he was not of the country’s much-maligned political elite, and his ability to deliver vital goods for cheap. The source of this ability was less to do with his stunning mastery of centralized economic planning and much more to do with Chavez’s decision to use the country’s vast oil wealth as a tool for winning support at home–and friends abroad.

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In 2002, a pro-American coup ousted Chavez from power for 48 hours. Chavez returned with a fury and reestablished his reign.

As Michael Rowan and Douglas E. Schoen document in their fantastic 2008 book, “The Threat Closer to Home,” Chavez deftly used Venezuela’s petrodollars as a means of effectively punching above his weight in foreign affairs. At the same time that Chavez was punishing American companies and pro-American political dissidents at home, he was buying favor from Havana to Tehran; from Beijing to Moscow. He became part of a loose, informal association of illiberal regimes; deeply ensconced in anti-American politics, all aimed at undermining and ultimately destroying the American-led world order in favor of a multipolar world order.

Many of you are probably aware of the persistent Iranian threat emanating from within South America, going back to the 1980s. Using Lebanese and Iranian–but more importantly, Shiite–trading diasporas located throughout South and Central America, the Iranians began exerting undue influence in this region. The Iranians view Latin America as America’s backyard that has been left largely unattended for years. Iranian foreign policy dictates that Iran make linkages with its diasporas in the region; that it buy influence with fundamentally anti-American elements that have long existed in the region, in order to craft a vital strategic lever to use against the U.S. In fact, there is historical precedence for this concept: the Iranian-backed terror group, Hezbollah, notoriously retaliated against the sizable Jewish population in Buenos Aires for an Israeli attack in the 1990s against the Hezbollah leadership in Lebanon. 114 people were killed by Hezbollah in bombings that targeted Jewish citizens in Argentina.

More recently, the U.S. military’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) warned American Congressional leaders that Iran’s terrorist activities in the region were at record-highs. The fear is that the Iranians are laying the groundwork for an asymmetrical offensive capability: should anything happen to Iran, they would strike at America’s “soft underbelly” in South America.

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U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd of U.S. Southern Command, recently warned U.S. lawmakers of the dangerously increasing influence of Iran, Russia, and China in Latin America.

During the reign of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela acted as a major point of entry for Iranian terrorists and spies seeking entry into the region. In fact, over the years, Chavez became the main conduit for Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere. While Iranian influence in the region is a major destabilizing element for American foreign policy in its sphere of influence, it is also important to note the Venezuela-FARC-Iranian connection.

In the aforementioned 2008 Andean Diplomatic Crisis between Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, the Colombians had discovered a disturbing link between FARC and Iran (via Venezuela, of course). Iran has long desired to build a nuclear weapons arsenal. They have had difficulty doing so. Over the years, the Iranians have partnered at various times with the North Koreans and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria in an attempt to develop such weapons. It is believed that Iran and North Korea are especially close. But, Iran has looked elsewhere. While Venezuela did not have such weapons (though, to be sure, Venezuela has long held the capabilities to develop rudimentary dirty bombs), there are uranium deposits in the South American jungles. Uranium is an essential element for the creation of nuclear weapons.

“Venezuela faces significant instability in the coming year due to widespread food, and medicine shortages; continued political uncertainty; and a worsening economic situation, the growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could eventually compel a regional response.” – U.S. SOUTHCOM commander, Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd to the Senate Armed Services Command

On top of conducting narco-terrorism against Colombia, it was believed that FARC was illegally mining uranium with plans of offering it to the Iranians. Indeed, the arrest of Juan Jose Rivera Suarez–the so-called “King of Coltan”–by the Colombian Navy in 2014 proved how deeply involved FARC was in illegal uranium mining. Suarez acted as the chief facilitator in South America for such illicit schemes. Since the Iranians were desperately searching for unconventional means of circumventing Western sanctions, the Venezuelans were seen as a vital facilitator for such aims. Meanwhile, FARC, always desperate for funds and allies, were determined to harvest as much uranium as possible and sell it to Venezuela, who, in turn, planned to sell the minerals to “their friends from distant lands.” Though the Venezuelan government denied it, there can be little doubt that this was but one of many ways that Chavez plotted to undermine America. This scheme was undoubtedly hatched between Raul Reyes and Hugo Chavez. The scheme died the moment Colombia killed Reyes in 2008 (thereby precipitating the 2008 Andean Diplomatic Crisis).

The Venezuelan response was very telling. Whereas Ecuador was merely pleased to grandstand and claim the moral high ground in the court of international opinion (claiming to have been the victim of wanton Colombian aggression whilst feigning innocence regarding their government’s connection with FARC), and with Colombia happy to oblige the international community’s insistence of conducting an independent investigation, Chavez took to the stage to threaten Colombia with war. Venezuelan tank battalions were moved to their border with Colombia, and Chavez threatened a devastating war upon Colombia, should they decide to launch similar attacks against FARC hideouts in Venezuela. Whether or not Chavez was prepared to wage war is less important rather than the basis for his response which was, to say the least, over-the-top (especially since neither the Ecuadorians nor Colombians really felt war over the matter was necessary). That is, unless Chavez had greater plans with Reyes (like selling FARC-supplied uranium to Iran).

Chavez also spent a considerable amount of time connecting Venezuela with even more powerful illiberal actors. Beyond his love of Castro and the Mullahs of Iran, Chavez deftly managed to subsidize his generous welfare state by getting sweetheart loans from China. Meanwhile, from a military perspective, Hugo Chavez found a kindred spirit in the stern Russian conservative imperial nationalist, Vladimir Putin. Indeed, in 2009, Russia would go on to land pairs of its hypersonic Tu0160 bombers in Caracas, Russian ships would make port calls, and there would be an all-around intensification of military-to-military contacts between the Russian Federation and the Venezuelans. This was all part of Venezuela seeking political refuge in the arms of major American rivals on the international stage.

These moves had their intended effect: Venezuela got undue protection from a perceived threat of American regime change abroad, and Chavez garnered support of the large cohort of Venezuelan poor. With the generous subsidies provided by the Chinese loans, Chavez bought the Venezuelan poor’s loyalty, he then continued reaffirming that loyalty by showing that he was, in fact, the strong man by continually flouting American supremacy…and getting away with it. This solidified Chavez’s grip on power.

Venezuela’s Resource Curse

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Since Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer in 2013, his former compatriot, the bus-driver-turned-president, Nicolás Maduro, did his best to carry on his mentor’s legacy. Maduro was a true believer in Chavismo. However, unlike his mentor, Maduro was never able to muster the charisma combined with belief to maintain the quasi-cult of personality that Chavez had created and maintained.

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Venezuelan President Nicólas Maduro and his socialist tracksuit.

Indeed, Maduro’s recent attempt to dissolve the National Assembly, aggregate a majority of power in his hands, and continue to exercise his military power by slaughtering his suffering, protesting people, have been met with resistance all around. To say the least, Maduro is no Chavez. Even more frightening is that Maduro’s removal could usher in his brilliant-but-creepy (and corrupt) Vice-President Tareck El-Aissimi to power. El-Aissimi is a fanatical believer in Chavismo. He was a cabinet secretary when Hugo Chavez was running the country. During that time, he facilitated what Chavez and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad jokingly referred to as “Aeroterror.”

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Tareck el-Assimi stands in the signature Chavismo red shirt with Maduro supporting him from behind. Assimi is the real problem for American interests in the region; he is deeply embedded with Iranian terror and illicit narcotics trafficking.

Aeroterror was the airline that existed between Iran and Venezuela with a stopover in Damascus, Syria. This unique airline was accessible only to the upper echelons of the Iranian and Venezuelan military elite and it would usually transport only terrorists, spies, weapons, and narcotics. El-Aissimi is a member of the minority Druze community whose roots are back in Lebanon. His father was an ardent Baathist, who supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, El-Aissimi himself stood in solidarity behind Chavez, when both Chavez and the Russians called for the U.S. to stand down. What’s more El-Aissimi was a staunch defender of the Iraqi strongman. Though born and raised in Venezuela, El-Aissimi ties with Islamic fundamentalism are deep. He is considered Iran’s point man in the Venezuelan government today. In fact, it was revealed by a Venezuelan defector that El-Aissimi personally issued thousands of Venezuelan passports to known Hezbollah terrorists.

Venezuela has suffered the curse of natural resources: like so many countries blessed to have lucrative oil deposits, it has yet to be able to generate sustainable levels of growth from that commodity. In fact, that commodity has made Venezuelan leaders lazy and corrupt. They understand that, at the end of the day, all they have to do is offer access to their oil in order to garner foreign benefactors, making them eschew necessary reforms, thereby dangerously locking their country to the price of oil–and all of its fluctuations. It has made them corrupt because they have always been able to buy off supporters with the easy money generated by the oil, all the meanwhile enriching themselves with greater shares of power and money from the public treasury. Thus, the Chavismo “revolutionary” government begins to look like nothing more than another Developing world kleptocracy.

With Chavez gone, the veneer of populism has been lifted and replaced with Maduro’s wanton, profligate corruption (of course, Chavez’s popularity was never universal, and was consistently the cause of solid support from the country’s impoverished and the handful of elites who benefited from his reign). As the global price of oil plummeted these last few years (though, to be sure, it is having a rebound), more and more of the Venezuelan economy was negative impacted. Essentially, as with all socialist enterprises, inevitably the government runs out of money with which to buy the loyalty and happiness of its own citizens.

Now, the country has descended into chaos. Maduro has increased draconian security measures, as nearly one million Venezuelans take to the streets to protest the complete collapse of the Venezuelan economy. During the year-long decline of Venezuela’s economy and the complete collapse of social structure, at different points, both China and Russia have moved in to shore up its investment in the country. Most recently, Russia swooped in to the situation with its state-owned oil giant, Rosneft.

Rosneft and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), have had a partnership for years. With the price of oil dropping so precipitously, the Pdvsa’s production of oil has declined as well. In 2014, when the price of oil on the global market was nearly double what it is today, Pdvsa produced roughly 2.5 million barrels of crude oil a day. Since the oil price drop, Pdvsa’s production has remained stagnant at 2 million bpd. Pdvsa’s revenue share has plummeted along with this decline in production by nearly $60 million. Maduro has been paying off his Chinese benefactors with 500,000 barrels of crude oil. Russia’s Rosneft is compensated by controlling British Petroleum’s old holdings that were sold off in 2013, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Russia’s Rosneft is helping to develop these areas of oil for Venezuela.

As Forbes reports, on top of BP’s old holdings (producing 140,000 bpd), Pdvsa sold Rosneft  key holdings throughout the world, such as a critical refinery in Germany in 2010, and also, Pdvsa toyed with the idea of trying to sell its Citgo holdings to Russia. And therein lies the real point of interest to Russia: if they could purchase from Venezuela technology and equipment from a U.S. firm, like Citgo, they would have cut through a key part of the U.S.-backed sanctions directed against Russia following their unlawful invasion of Crimea in 2014. The deal ultimately collapsed because of onerous liability clauses that Pdvsa would have had to pay to Citgo, had it decided to sell its holdings. Rosneft has also signed a decade-long development deal in Venezuela that would see the Russian company spending nearly $20 billion to develop critical oil fields in Venezuela.

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Rosneft’s CEO makes another deal with Venezuela’s Nicólas Maduro.

However, thus far, the Rosneft attempt to acquire control of Citgo (and therefore, gain dominance over three critical U.S. oil refineries as well as an array of terminals moving about $25 million gallons of gasoline per day) has been thwarted–for now. Putin has effectively weaponized Russia’s energy policy and, given its importance to Russian foreign policy, one should not believe that Putin will simply shirk away from the pristine opportunity that the collapse of Venezuela offers Russia in this department. Although, one must note that even Russian largesse is limited. Recently, the Russian State Owned Company, Sovcomflot, sued Pdvsa for $30 million in unpaid bills and is holding an oil cargo ship hostage as collateral.

Should Venezuela lose its Russian benefactor, there would be little in the way of Maduro maintaining his power. Eventually, he will literally have no means of paying his military forces that are currently terrorizing his rioting population. Meanwhile, the majority of Venezuelans starve and seek ways to flee the country. And, this is the next critical point to remember.

A Shattered Region

Right now, Latin America is rapidly destabilizing. Thanks to the ongoing Mexican Drug War, the entirety of Central America has been destabilized by drug cartels fleeing rivals and the Mexican government’s reach in southern Mexico. These cartels have found refuge in places like Guatemala; they have turned these countries into bases of operation, displacing local populations, disrupting the tenuous grip on power that the host governments had, and continuing to wage war against Mexico and rival cartels in Mexico. These groups are also vying for control over the vital drug routes cutting through Central America. Meanwhile, these cartels, notably the Los Zetas, have begun making inroads with more well-established cartels in Colombia, and even with the aforementioned FARC.

As this instability grows and leeches out, like a cancer spreading unchecked throughout the body, it will metastasize and continue growing until it compounds with other threats in the region, creating a cauldron of chaos right in the proverbial backyard of the U.S. Due to the takeover of the drug cartels in Central America (particularly Guatemala, but they have systematically spread over the last few years beyond Guatemala), a flood of refugees have abandoned their homes and begun moving up to the United States’ broken border. In 2014, there was the case of the scores of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. These were mostly children entering the U.S. from Central American countries like Guatemala. They would have likely never attempted to make it to the U.S. (and certainly not in the numbers that they moved) had it not been for the violent presence of the Mexican drug cartels in their native lands.

Then, of course, there is also the issue of general illegal immigration into the U.S. from its southern neighbors. As I reported in September of last year, Trinidad has become a transit point for Illegal Immigrants seeking entrance into the U.S. I managed to interview a Cuban asylum seeker in the Washington, D.C.-metro area who informed me that, while he and two other Cubans transitioned from Cuba into the U.S. through Trinidad, the vast majority of Illegal Immigrants and asylum seekers held up in the small country were, in fact, South Asian. Specifically, they were Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. While that is not an inherent threat to the U.S., the fact that both Pakistan and Bangladesh are hotbeds of Islamic extremism and that groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic States have both expressed a desire to move its operatives into America through the broken southwestern border should give American security officials pause.

The migration pattern is going like this: from different points in the Caribbean to Trinidad. Then, from Trinidad, people either apply for political asylum to the U.S., or they try and jump over from the island-state into the chaos of Venezuela. From Venezuela, they transit up into Central America, where they ultimately make their way up through Mexico and into the U.S. through our broken southwestern border. The instability and breakdown of the social system in both Venezuela and Central America is feeding into this trend.

Esté el Momento

So, what does all of this mean? It means a greater threat to America’s physical and economic security. The splashy headlines may be regarding events in the Muslim world, or about North Korea, but the place from whence physical danger may emanate is to America’s south. We’ve long dealt with the controversies surrounding the U.S. border with Mexico; Americans are generally familiar with the savage nature of the ongoing Mexican Drug War, but we have little concern or understanding about what’s occurring in the rest of Latin America. We don’t think about it in much the same way that we never thought about the Mideast or, specifically, places like Afghanistan before 9/11.

Make no mistake: the collapse of Venezuela and its descent into anarchy will be utterly destabilizing to the region. In that instability, close allies, such as Colombia, which is–for the first time in decades–enjoying an unprecedented level of peace and prosperity, will be immediately threatened. Meanwhile, agents of chaos, such as terror groups, like Hezbollah, and drug cartels from Central America as well as narco-terror groups, such as FARC, will capitalize on the unstable environment in Venezuela. As we’ve seen ad nauseam, terrorists love failed and failing states. Let’s face it, Venezuela as we understand it today is a failing state on the way to being a failed one, no different than either Somalia or North Korea.

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U.S. forces will need to increase their presence in the region.

While we can argue endlessly about the merits of greater U.S. military intervention in places such as Syria or Libya, we should all recognize the inherent risks of ignoring Venezuela. Iran is making a serious play for currying major influence in the region–at America’s expense (to say nothing of the terrorist threat that Iran poses in the region). The drug cartels in Central America are always looking to expand their reach. All the meanwhile, scores of new undocumented persons and political asylum seekers would likely make their way northward, heading straight for the U.S. border because, what else have they got to lose?

We are not ready.

There is an alternative, though. It is not one that many are willing to take, in light of all of the commitments that the U.S. has made overseas. But, this one is likely more important than anything occurring in Syria. The U.S. has willing partners in the region who are mortified by what’s occurring in Venezuela. The Brazilians have expressed outrage of what’s occurring in Venezuela. Meanwhile, the Colombians share not only geography with Venezuela, but there are ethnographic affinities as well (many Venezuelans have relations living in Colombia and vice versa. It is a true family affair). The U.S. cannot simply abandon the region to chaos or terror. The U.S. must lead here.

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By crafting a coalition to move into Venezuela and to stabilize the situation by providing protection and humanitarian support, the U.S. can not only remove a persistent threat posed by the Maduro regime, but it can also stem the tide of Illegal Immigrants seeking to use Venezuela as a shipping off point into the U.S. Also, the U.S. check the seemingly unstoppable Iranian influence peddling (as well as Russia’s meddling) in the region. For, despite the fact that countries such as Brazil remain highly connected to Russia and other states in South America remain important to Iran, Venezuela was the geopolitical pivot of influence for Iran and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

These are the primary reasons that the U.S. must seriously look into creating a regional peacekeeping force to stabilize the Venezuelan situation. There are many factors behind this, but the one thing we mustn’t forget is the absolute importance that Latin America holds for the U.S. It was the region that prompted former President James Monroe to craft his eponymous Monroe Doctrine. The ability for America to manage affairs in a region so close to America’s core is also a vital component of U.S. statecraft. For, if the U.S. cannot keep its own region in check, how can we believably assert ourselves farther afield? Besides, whereas those more popular missions abroad are the focus of U.S. foreign policy, Latin America is geographically connected to the U.S. and many states can threaten American physical security far more than most other states outside of the Western Hemisphere can.

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Illegal Immigrants piled on to the “La Beastia’ train that runs from Central America into Mexico. This is the primary vehicle that many use to enter into the U.S. illegally.

The U.S. must take the lead in crafting a viable regional coalition aimed at effecting political change in Venezuela whilst maintaining a modicum of social order. Only then can the U.S. turn back the negative trends working against it in the region. Besides, Venezuela’s vast oil wealth is waiting to be tapped; America can disproportionately benefit by assisting in restarting Venezuela’s oil production. What’s more, the Venezuelans can benefit from this by rehabilitating their economy from the increased production of oil.

One thing is certain, however, America must not ignore Venezuela any longer. The time is now to act.

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