- - Sunday, May 12, 2019


President Trump’s anger at his administration’s current failure to oust the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela is understandable. He is concerned that statements about potential American intervention violate his pledge to not get involved in other nations’ affairs unless they impact U.S. national security.

He also likely instinctively understands that there remains considerable suspicion regarding American motives throughout Latin America even though many of the region’s countries support Mr. Maduro’s ouster.

The reality is that the responsibility for regime change in Venezuela rests with the Venezuelans themselves. Nevertheless, there are ways the United States can help without intervening directly.

Mr. Maduro does not respect either the will of the majority of his people or the disapproval of international opinion.

In a period of extreme economic distress, he retains the tenuous loyalty of the army as it remains one of the few sectors of society where a paying job and food — no matter how bad — still goes on the table. In addition, Cuban and Russian “advisers” ensure the loyalty of the rank and file through not very subtle intimidation. Peaceful protest is no longer an option. If the army won’t turn on the Maduro regime voluntarily, armed force is the only recourse. Venezuela needs an insurgency, or at least the credible threat of one.

Political armies traditionally do not do real combat well as witnessed by the collapse of the corrupt Cuban army in the face of Fidel Castro’s rebels in 1959 and the Libyan Security forces when confronted by well-armed and determined rebel forces in 2011. The politicized Syrian army was near total collapse until propped up by the Russians and Iranians. Venezuela’s army is trained and equipped to intimidate civilians by running over them with armored cars and gassing them in the streets; its efficacy in the face of armed opposition is a very open question.

Venezuela’s opposition should leave the country with their families and flee to Brazil and Colombia, where they can organize an insurgent army and credibly threaten the existing regime with a real civil war if it does not enter into serious negotiations for a political solution to the present crisis. If the government still refuses to pursue a peaceful solution, the insurgents should open hostilities and carve out liberated areas ruled by the rebels as a free Venezuela.

The United States can help by training and equipping rebels in sanctuary nations assuming that Colombia and Brazil agree to provide such areas to the rebels. We can also assist by building facilities such as barracks, communications stations and barracks as well providing such facilities with supplies.

In the event that the threat of an insurgency still does not bring the regime to the bargaining table and hostilities commence, Americans should not provide advisers within Venezuela. We can declare no-fly zones to protect insurgent troops and the areas they liberate from the government’s air force.

If the insurgents are smart, they will set up democratic local institutions in liberated areas, and use American and other international humanitarian and economic assistance to induce government forces to defect with the promise of better food and pay. American help with insurgent propaganda via social media, radio and television should further erode government morale.

The Venezuelan military is primarily a garrison force and the discomfort and danger of life in the field as opposed to the promise of better pay, and living conditions in the rebel-controlled areas would be a strong inducement to change sides. This will be particularly true if insurgents begin to eliminate Cuban and Russian overseers who presently enforce discipline in the fashion of World War II Communist commissars.

If the Russians and Cubans attempt to intervene directly against the insurgents, the United States would be justified in declaring the quarantine of military equipment that President Trump has recently threatened. In this, we have the precedent of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As anti-tank, anti-aircraft and other weaponry is made available to urban cadres — particularly in the capital of Caracas — the ability of the security forces to intimidate anti-government protesters will diminish exponentially and the possibility of a mass uprising will increase correspondingly as happened in Havana in 1959 and the anti-Communist revolutions in 1989 in the former Warsaw Pact nations.

America can help here, but any Venezuelan Revolution must remain a Venezuelan endeavor. To date, the Russians and Cubans have been playing the traditional American role in Latin America of repressing attempts at popular rule. In this case, turnabout is fair play.

• Gary Anderson lectures in Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

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