- - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The crisis in Venezuela that has ruined my country’s economy has been building for years as Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban partners have been building a totalitarian infrastructure they were sure would protect them from the growing unrest their policies have created. They were wrong and with U.S. and international opposition mounting in support of his domestic opponents, Mr. Maduro’s days may be numbered.

Still, Mr. Maduro’s allies continue to portray his opposition as enemies of democracy who in concert with the Trump administration are mounting a coup against a democratically-elected government. Americans have to be wondering why the president and his advisers believe the situation in Venezuela is so important to the United States.

Since the dawn of what former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called his “Bolivarian Revolution,” Venezuelan democracy has been unravelling and morphing into a dictatorship that has invited terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as guerrilla armies such as Colombian FARC and ELN and powerful drug cartels to the new Venezuela as the safest haven from which to operate in South America.

Cuba, Iran, Russia and China are the regime’s main allies and economic supporters in exchange for free access to the nation’s natural resources and the right to establish proxy facilities they use to expand their influence to neighboring countries.

Nicolas Maduro won a rigged election in 2012 following that of Chavez, who had the total support and training from the Cuban regime and doubled down on his predecessor’s policies. The following years brought the systematic destruction of all private economic activities and an iron-fisted reaction to dissidence; leaving thousands dead and generating an unprecedented wave of political and economic refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.

Today, the citizens of a once proud and prosperous democracy live in fear on an average monthly income of less than $3 while suffering inflation that is projected to reach an unbelievable 1 million percent this year.

In the face of the growing ruthlessness of the Maduro regime, believers in democracy and individual freedom have done their best at great personal risk to preserve the foundations of Venezuela’s freedoms.

In 2015, they won an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly only to have the Maduro regime strip the assembly of virtually all its constitutionally guaranteed power and create a parallel Supra Assembly completely dominated by Maduro loyalists, which proceeded to take over other traditionally independent institutions such as Supreme Court and Electoral College and give Mr. Maduro total control of the government.

Last year, Mr. Maduro won another six-year term in an election condemned by domestic and international observers as fraudulent. Most countries refused to recognize Maduro as a legitimate head of state. The transparent illegality of the election triggered an effort to re-establish the rule of law in Venezuela by demanding adherence to the letter of the constitution. The National Assembly declared a void in the head of the executive branch and demanded the establishment of a transitional government and new elections.

Under the Venezuela’s constitution, Juan Guaido, the president of the National Assembly, was declared interim president at a massive meeting on Jan. 23rd. This was no coup, but a constitutional solution to a crisis that could otherwise lead to civil war, and it quickly won support from the United States and dozens of other countries committed to ending the humanitarian tragedy in Venezuela.

Like many of my countrymen, I have been arguing for years that the United States cannot afford to ignore what has been going on in my country, but until recently few in this country, focused on other seemingly more immediate domestic and international issues have paid much attention to a crisis that was threatening to destabilize not just Venezuela, but the region. Those Venezuelans dedicated to reclaiming our democracy and prosperity have welcomed the concrete steps the Trump administration has taken by openly supporting a return to a system of freedoms in our country.

The American people know that their own freedom and prosperity depends in part on protecting not only their own borders, but their regional influence. No nation can solve all of the world’s problems, but a crisis in our own hemisphere deserves at least as much attention as one thousands of miles and continents away. By supporting reform in Venezuela, the United States is coming not just to our aid, but is striking a blow against those who have used our country as a base to undermine stability in the region and establish a drug corridor that facilitates the importation of drugs into the United States.

The decisiveness and willingness of the United States to help put the earliest possible end to the murderous dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro will enhance U.S. national security and win this country the gratitude of millions of my countrymen.

• Alberto Scharffenorth is a Venezuelan and former leader in cable-TV. He lives in Florida and is vice president of NetUno.

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