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Washington’s Painful Maduro Miscalculation

Maduro claims to have "total loyalty" of the Venezuelan military chiefs | Ground Zero

When Washington decided to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president, Trump administration officials made it clear that incumbent Nicolas Maduro would not last long.

There was a time when such optimism was a reasonable suggestion. Not any more.

It appears that, every time there is something major happening in the world, the United States are involved, either as an active participant (Afghanistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia) or passively (Libya, Syria). All of these countries have, at a certain point, had a thriving economy and prosperous futures.

But Venezuela isn’t without its flaws. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, had transformed Venezuela from one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries into a poverty-stricken horror marked by runaway inflation and severe shortages even of the most basic consumer necessities.

The Trump administration’s efforts to get other nations in the Hemisphere to recognize Guaido seemed to be paying off as well. Most governments followed Washington’s lead and rejected Maduro. There were only a few exceptions.

However, the anticipated collapse of the Maduro regime has yet to occur. Despite massive opposition demonstrations and pervasive discontent with the domestic economy, his grip on power remains surprisingly strong. Most crucially, Venezuela’s military has remained loyal to Maduro, despite U.S. pressure to switch allegiance to Guaido.

In addition, both Russia and China have voiced support for Maduro and provided some financial assistance. Moscow has gone even further, dispatching two nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela along with more than one hundred military technicians to help restore the country’s air-defense missile system.

Russian S-300 anti-missile rocket systems move along a central street in Moscow, May 4, 2009
Russian S-300 anti-missile rocket systems move along a central street in Moscow, May 4, 2009

U.S. officials appear worried that Guaido’s bid for power is faltering—a concern that is well-founded. Washington took a bold stance in recognizing him as president, even though he and his backers controlled no meaningful territory. That move may turn out to be another example of a U.S. foreign-policy initiative based on little more than wishful thinking.

It wouldn’t be the first time that U.S. leaders assumed that a foreign client had far more domestic backing than proved to be the case. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush backed Angolan insurgent leader Jonas Savimbi, who also had a wildly enthusiastic following among “movement conservatives” in the United States.

Not only did Savimbi turn out to be a ruthless psychopath instead of a pro-democracy freedom fighter, he ultimately failed to achieve his objective to unseat Angola’s incumbent government.

Venezuela coup – All out civil war fears as opposition leader Juan Guaido demands 'military
Venezuela coup – All out civil war fears as opposition leader Juan Guaido demands ‘military

U.S. officials appear to have made a similar miscalculation with respect to Ukraine’s political affairs. When Barack Obama’s administration supported demonstrators who were intent on unseating the country’s pro-Russian, but duly elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, one opposition figure was the particular darling of U.S. officials: Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

In the infamous intercepted telephone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt about Washington’s choices for leaders of a post–Yanukovych government, Nuland made that point emphatically. “Yats the guy!” she gushed.

Such fiascos confirm that U.S. officials have a habit of grossly overestimating the popularity and political viability of favorite clients in foreign countries.

The failure of Guaido to unseat Maduro despite extensive U.S. and other international support suggests that Venezuela may be another case of wishful thinking. Instead of escalating its meddling, the Trump administration needs to take a step back.

If they truly wish to rid themselves of Maduro’s corrupt, autocratic rule, then they need to take the required action. Washington has already pushed the envelope of appropriate outside support for Guaido to the limit.

NOTE: This article is an opinion of our foreign correspondent and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Worldposts and it’s staff.

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