It’s been a little over a week since Venezuela’s opposition-held National Assembly leader Juan Guaido has declared himself “interim president” of the South American nation.
Yet so far, the opposition has made little traction in dislodging elected President Nicolas Maduro and the chavista government he heads, despite the crippling “medieval siege”-like sanctions heaped upon his government that appear to be a naked grab for Venezuelan oil.
Increasingly, it looks like little short of a major armed intervention will actually topple the Venezuelan government – and any such intervention could unleash forces in the region that would spiral well beyond the control of any party involved in the potential conflict.
On Wednesday, Maduro explicitly warned in his “message to the people of the United States” that Americans can’t allow the country to “allow another war like Vietnam in Latin America,” warning that any U.S. military assault will mean that troops “will have a much worse Vietnam than you could imagine.”
Stressing the need for a broad anti-war front to oppose any new war in Latin America, the Venezuelan leader added:
“The United States is a great country and it is much bigger than Donald Trump … I only ask for respect for Venezuela and I need your support to avoid a war like Vietnam.”
Here are five reasons why, as Nicolas Maduro recently stated, a war on Venezuela could prove to be a “Latin American Vietnam” – or possibly worse.
1. The Venezuelan People Don’t Want a War
First and foremost, the people of Venezuela – as dire as their state may be due to the de facto blockade imposed on their country – simply don’t want to be “liberated” in the manner that the U.S. speaks of, especially given the long record of statements from U.S. politicians like National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Donald Trump who openly talk about stealing the country’s oil, or the fact that Trump’s new special envoy to the country, Elliott Abrams, is an actual war criminal.
And while various former Venezuelan officials living outside of the country have clamored for a “humanitarian intervention” of some kind, a recent poll by Datanálisis – hardly a pro-Maduro company – shows that only 35 percent of the population support a foreign intervention to remove Maduro, and 54 percent are opposed.
2. Russia and China Have Maduro’s Back
In the geopolitical “great game” between major powers, Venezuela is an important piece of the puzzle – and Russia and China have shown over the years that they won’t simply abandon their troubled friend to the fate that befell Iraq or Libya, especially not while they are involved in a tug-of-war with western powers over Syria, Ukraine, Taiwan and the South China Sea, respectively.
According to some estimates, the South American nation owes between $120-$140 billion to its two allies, which is repayable in oil. Russia’s Rosneft oil conglomerate also holds an almost 50 percent stake in Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
Pentagon war-planners are also surely aware of the risk of miscalculation. Given the already proxy-war nature of the drama surrounding Venezuela, U.S. aggression could lead to an escalation of the conflict – including Maduro asking Russia for stepped-up aid or a full-fledged military presence in the country, which he is entitled to request under international law.
3. A Regional War Would Be a Total Bloodbath
When John Bolton held up a notepad Monday that read “5,000 troops to Colombia,” many were shocked – and indeed, the dispatching of troops so close to Venezuela’s border is a cause for concern. Yet even the U.S. invasion against a massively outgunned Panama required around 27,000 soldiers, and the U.S. is notoriously afraid of incurring troop losses given the domestic reaction that would result from U.S. casualties on the ground.
And any war in the region surrounding the Amazon involving the well-armed right-wing governments of Brazil and Columbia versus an equally well-equipped Venezuelan military would have global ramifications and could potentially be a multi-generational conflict.
Yet some experts see any possible mobilization of troops to the region as preparing the grounds for a potential “tripwire,” as Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, told The Guardian:
“I think Bolton was just bluffing, but if it happens those troops would be a tripwire, ready to trigger a bigger deployment should there be any incursion from Venezuela.
Then there’s not telling how it escalates. Any war that involves Colombia and Venezuela would be devastating – both countries have strong airforces so it would be a war fought over infrastructure, military bases and cities – not just the border.”
4. “2,000,000 Militiamen Are Ready”
On Wednesday, the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, made a clear response to John Bolton’s “5,000 troops” note with hi own “accidental” flashing of a handwritten note that read “2,000,000 MILICIA LISTOS,” or “2,000,000 militiamen are ready.”
The note was a reference to the country’s civilian-based National Bolivarian Militia, who have been trained and armed since 2008 for the express purpose of fighting off any “invading imperialist force.”
Equipped with state-of-the-art Dragunov sniper rifles, 5,000 Russian surface-to-air missiles, and a range of other modern weapons, such irregular forces would make any invading force’s mission an absolute nightmare.
5. The Migrant Crisis in South America Would Explode
Venezuela’s ongoing crisis has already led to the largest migration in Latin America’s modern history, with neighboring countries inundated by economic refugees seeking shelter and work in neighboring Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador by the hundreds of thousands. This has led to outbreaks of xenophobic violence targeting Venezuelans in each of these countries.
But as we’ve seen in the Middle East and North Africa, “regime change” wars only serve to sharply accelerate migration outflows from poor countries like Libya and Syria – and we have no reason to believe that a war on Venezuela would end the ongoing humanitarian exodus across South America.
Indeed, a new war in Venezuela would make the current crisis appear to be a drop in the bucket, and would have a knock-on effect with the potential to cause havoc across the Americas.
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