- - Tuesday, February 19, 2019

In the film noir classic “Memento,” the protagonist suffers from the inability to form long-term memories, and so he is condemned to a purgatory in which he can only remember what has happened to him in the past few minutes. The public discussion of the ongoing disaster in Venezuela suffers from a similar pathology. Because of a general lack of attention to and interest in Latin America, the coverage of Venezuela cycles through three phases.

First, there is inattention, with Venezuela pushed from the headlines by the latest Twitter storm in Washington, or by news from the Middle East, but mostly by the former. The second phase consists of a burst of outrage at the latest atrocities committed by Nicolas Maduro and his clique, or moment of attention to the latest act of courage by the people of Venezuela — public demonstrations, the valiant call by President Juan Guaido for immediate free and fair elections.

Then comes stage three, in which various pundits note the importance of our not actually doing anything: “We need time for dialogue!” “Intervention in Venezuela would trigger a blood bath!” “Let’s negotiate with Maduro!” Meanwhile, Mr. Maduro, backed by the army he has purged of any leaders brave enough to think for themselves, continues to jail, torture and shoot protesters, and to starve large segments of the public, while the mass exodus of Venezuelans from their homes continues. Mr. Maduro’s past cynicism is forgotten, and press attention gradually reverts to the cynosure of celebrity gossip, and we are back to phase one.

Right now, we find ourselves somewhere near the end of the third phase of the current cycle of press coverage of Venezuela, with pundits reminding us of how complicated everything is, and of how important negotiations are, and by the way, did we notice that the pope called Mr. Maduro “his excellency” rather than referring to him as “president?” An airlift of food and medicine into the country has been blocked by Mr. Maduro’s henchmen in uniform, and Venezuelans who can, continue to leave their country, perhaps forever. Those who cannot continue to starve, save for those already arrested by the regime. Yes, let’s do have another round of attention to Venezuela, but wait until after the next season of our favorite teleseries please!

We already know that Mr. Maduro will never leave power voluntarily, ever. We also know that almost everyone in the democracies is waiting for someone else to solve the problem, to save themselves the cost in blood and treasure of doing so, and so that they can complain about how costless and easy it would have been if we had just taken their advice and done … nothing. We can either join the group, and perhaps entertain ourselves with a good novel about what happened in the late 1930s when the world behaved in a similar way in the face of aggression — Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is worth your attention if you haven’t already read it — or, we could act.



Venezuela imports crude oil from the United States — that’s right, despite sitting on some of the world’s most extensive reserves the Venezuelan regime imports crude petroleum. We could insist that any fuel sent to Venezuela be administered by the legitimate government headed by Juan Guaido. We could also arrest any members of the criminal clique currently usurping power in Venezuela who find themselves on U.S. soil. The U.S. armed forces should also stand ready to help President Guaido take physical control of the country in order to hold free and fair elections.

We should do this because it is the right thing to do, because we are a free people and because there is no place for medieval levels of starvation and barbarity in the 21st century. If those aren’t good enough reasons for you, well, you should reassess your priorities. But as that might take some time, before you get started on rebuilding your character, you might also consider the consequences for the United States of having a failed state on the south shore of the Caribbean. Miami is closer to Caracas than it is to either Minneapolis-Saint Paul or to Los Angeles California.

A failed state can’t refine it’s own gasoline, but it can export illegal narcotics, it can certainly generate huge numbers of refugees — more than 3 million Venezuelans have already fled the disaster that was once their country, but there are 10 times that many people still in Venezuela. A failed state can lend itself for use by other hostile foreign powers whose military establishments are better organized than the Venezuelan military — consider the recent visit of Russian Tupolev Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela, and then there is Venezuela’s sale of strategically important coltan ore to Iran. The litany goes on. The disaster shouldn’t.

So, because it’s right, because it’s in our character as a nation, and out of hardscrabble pragmatism, we need to increase our support for the legitimate government of Juan Guaido, by whatever means are necessary to facilitate free and fair elections in Venezuela. Now.

• John Londregan is professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

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