- - Sunday, April 14, 2019


The rogue regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela has raised the ante against the United States and the majority of Latin American states which have recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela. The Venezuelan constitution stipulates that the president of the National Assembly can take up presidential powers on an interim basis when there is a question of the legitimacy of the president.

To prop up the Maduro government, and perhaps to prevent Mr. Maduro himself from fleeing the country in fright of his people, Russia sent two transport planes and 200 soldiers to Caracas on March 23, ostensibly to service Venezuela’s Russian-made S-300 air defense system. The system is believed to have been damaged in recent electricity blackouts. Almost nobody believes these soldiers are repairmen.

Russian military contractors and mercenaries are believed to be providing security support for Mr. Maduro. Cuba’s secret police, modeled on the old Soviet KGB, has been setting up a state “security system” in Caracas, which is allied with that in Nicaragua. Russia is clearly backing what it envisions as an alliance of Marxist states, or states friendly to Marxist states, in the Caribbean and South America. Venezuela, with its vast oil reserves and 40 million people, is crucial to that aim.

Conditions, meanwhile, continue to deteriorate under the Maduro regime. There are severe shortages of everything from food to toilet paper. Electricity has become elusive. Hyper-inflation is rampant with a worthless currency. Venezuelans who are able are fleeing, as many as an astonishing 3 million alone to neighboring Colombia and Brazil. This presents severe security concerns for these neighbors.

President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have all told Russia, in one way or another, to go home and take their “help” with them. Vice President Mike Pence announced new sanctions on the state-owned oil company PDVSA, as well as two additional companies that supply Venezuelan crude to Cuba which sends some of it on to Moscow. It’s the prospect of Venezuela becoming part of a growing network of Russian allies in the region that worries Washington.

Mr. Bolton reminds everyone of the Monroe Doctrine, which told Europe 200 years ago that the United States regards the Western Hemisphere as an American — i.e., as in both South America and North America — hemisphere.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, not long ago said in a speech to a joint session of Congress, the first time any leader of a multilateral organization has been invited to do so, that the United States should expand its military leadership. This was further the first time such a proposition had been set out by a foreign voice, calling for Washington to put together all its regional treaty arrangements.

Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council offered an endorsement to a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, saying the United States “should lead a more concerted effort to thicken the political bonds and operational ties between NATO and its global partners. Specifically, the United States should consider formalizing the links among U.S. treaty allies in Europe and those in Asia, namely Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“At the same time, we should begin fostering alliance-like links among our existing allies with strategic partners such as India and, in Latin America, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico.”

Mr. Wilson envisions that as a precursor “to a more formal alliance among democracies who are committed to protecting their way of life and a democratic international order.” Given President Trump’s ambivalence about NATO such an alliance would be difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, Frederick Kempe, president of the Atlantic Council, thinks Venezuela could be the right place to start with establishing deeper links among the United States, Canada, key European allies and other leading democracies. The hour for telling the Russians to get lost grows late.

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