U.S. military threat in Venezuela could help Maduro, experts say: 'Trump is not helping'
During the State of the Union on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump intensified pressure on Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, saying his socialist policies have damaged the country.
“We condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump said.
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Opposition leader Juan Guaido has deemed himself the country’s interim president over Maduro on Jan. 23, after Maduro banned opponents from running in an election last year that has been condemned internationally as illegitimate.
The U.S., Canada and more than 30 other countries have now recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president. And Maduro is taking this as a threat, warning Venezuelans about an imminent invasion from the U.S.
“The U.S. under Trump is not helping the situation in Venezuela,” Nicolás Saldías, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and researcher at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., said.
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Saldías said the U.S.’s threats of military intervention helps embattled leader Maduro, as it creates the perception the U.S. is going to pursue the option.
Maxwell Cameron, a UBC political science professor, agreed.
“There is a lot of truth to that. The U.S. sanctions allowed the Maduro government to blame the U.S. for economic mismanagement, and American coup-mongering justifies his [Maduro’s] hard line in dealing with the opposition,” Cameron said.
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Maduro has accused the U.S. of “wanting to return to the 20th century of military coups, subordinate puppet governments and the looting of resources.”
On Tuesday, Maduro lashed out at Trump, saying he was obsessed with Venezuela because the U.S. wants to steal Venezuelan oil.
Washington recently imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports in an effort to undermine Maduro’s main source of income and weaken his grip on power.
Will the U.S. invade Venezuela?
Trump said U.S. military intervention was under consideration in an interview with CBS aired on Sunday.
“Certainly, it’s something that’s on the — it’s an option,” he said.
On Jan. 28, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton also said that “all options are on the table,” when it came to Venezuela but he did not specify what the next steps could be.
However, a line scrawled on his notepad appeared to read, “5,000 troops to Colombia.”
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Maduro has previously accused Bolton and the U.S. of colluding with Colombia to try and assassinate him.
In a press conference in December, Maduro said the U.S. was using “dirty dollars bled from the U.S. empire” to train Colombian mercenaries to carry out the assassination, with the blessing of Colombian President Ivan Duque.
However, the chances of the U.S. invading Venezuela are “unlikely,” Saldías said.
He said it does not line up with Trump’s foreign policy preferences, like pulling troops out of Syria and trying to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Trump also does not place a heavy emphasis on Latin America, he said.
“He did not mention it in his State of the Union speech,” he said, adding that Trump seems to have an anti-war stance, which goes against a massive U.S. invasion in Venezuela.
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He believes the “all options are on the table” threat is probably just a negotiating strategy to try and get the other side to bend and instill fear in Maduro.
Cameron said the possibility of a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela should be taken seriously, “considering the military hardliners” in U.S. office, such as Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Most people believe this would be a disaster, as any use of force in Venezuela would make a situation that is already catastrophic, even worse,” he said.
Maduro may use U.S. threat to rally his base
Madura has always used the threat of U.S. intervention as a means to rally his base — just like former President Hugo Chavez did during his 14 years in power, Saldías said.
“This is akin to Trump using the threat of the migrant caravan to build a wall,” he added.
Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world and Maduro has long accused the U.S. of wanting to take control of its vast riches.
Madura is using fear-mongering to build his base, and Saldías said the U.S. threat of military intervention just feeds into the fire.
“His base is very small, but they’re armed. These people are parodying the same lines … saying the U.S. is going to invade.”
The base Saldías is referring to is called the “colectivos” or collectives, an organized militia group that has vowed to defend Maduro, according to the BBC.
Saldías believes a majority of Venezuelans probably do not think the U.S. is going to invade Venezuela. But the people who are “deep into the state media,” like the “colectivos” are already primed to thinking U.S. troops are coming.
“The number of people who support him [Maduro] does not exceed 30 per cent of the population. But the people who do support him … they are hardcore,” he said.
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However, Eric Farnsworth, a former U.S. diplomat and vice-president of the Council of the Americas, told the Guardian that Trump’s swift recognition of Guaido was “a clear inflexion point” that could prove the tipping point for Maduro’s embattled regime.
“I don’t think we can automatically assume he is on the way out. But I do think today is the most serious threat he has faced,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Rahul Kalvapalle and the Associated Press