ART BY KAYTE CHIEN
In many of our favorite childhood fairytales, we see the heroic Prince Charming swooping in to save a beautifully tragic damsel-in-distress. Turns out, many historical events follow a similar plot: when a country is in trouble, the United States swoops in on a shiny military aircraft to save the distressed nation.
And over the past two weeks, the U.S. has done just that for Venezuela, a nation embroiled in a humanitarian crisis due to economic and political turmoil. In attempts to alleviate the tensions, the U.S. sent humanitarian aid with perishable food and medicine to the Colombian border with Venezuela.
However, Venezuela’s authoritarian president, Nicolás Maduro, will not allow aid to enter the country, denying the very existence of a humanitarian crisis in the country. The president has so adamantly oppressed the truth, in fact, that he has gone as far to state that U.S. aid is the first sign of foreign military intervention.
While Maduro’s first claim does raise a few eyebrows among international leaders, his second concern—though exaggerated—is definitely valid. Aid from the U.S. does entail political motives, with a major motive being Trump’s intention to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist president by replacing Maduro with opposition leader Juan Guiadó. To international relief organizations such as Red Cross and United Nations agencies, this rationale poses a concern because humanitarian operations are supposed to be neutral.
While the matter of sending humanitarian aid to a country in crisis aligns with ethical standards, intertwining the U.S.’s now-notorious foreign intervention through use of humanitarian aid is untimely and potentially dangerous. Amidst widespread distress in Venezuela, official U.S. intervention may only add fuel to the fire that has spread across the nation since his rise to power in 2013.
Yet, the dire facts that justify the U.S.’s course of action remain: since global oil prices plunged in 2014, inflation has risen above a million percent and food and medicine shortage has drained the people’s health, prompting three million Venezuelans to flee the country. With almost 90 percent of Venezuela’s population living in poverty, those remaining in the country clearly need all the aid they can get.
However, due to an increasing skepticism coming from other watchful nations, the bottom line is this: the U.S. cannot dive into a humanitarian crisis alone.
First and foremost, Maduro’s control over the government should not be underestimated. The dictator is imprisoning political opponents, silencing free press and suppressing street protests with fatal force. He holds absolute control over his loyalist Supreme Court and even rigged an election in 2017 for a new legislative body filled with his loyal supporters. On top of his unmatched power over the legislative and judicial branch, Maduro bears the military under his wings, granting himself tremendous authoritarian power over the people and foreign diplomacy. With the military on his side, Maduro carries the ultimate upper hand—one that neither Trump nor Guiadó can defeat alone.
The unfortunate reality is that the economic and political pressure from in and out of the country may simply not be enough to overthrow the dictator. As long as Maduro maintains control over Venezuela’s armed forces, the U.S.’s politically motivated efforts may provoke the military, rather than pull the soldiers to “our side.”
In the self-proclaimed war against the formidable tyrant, the U.S. sent more than just friendly aid to Venezuela. Last month, the U.S. sent its official endorsement for Guiadó and imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela’s oil imports in an attempt to strain Maduro’s finances. On Feb. 18, President Trump sent a fiery warning to the Venezuelan military, demanding that it abandon its adamant support for Maduro, or else. While it appears advantageous to rally Venezuelans for a righteous cause, the U.S.’s one-country operation may prolong the stalemate between opposition and Maduro’s regime and discourage a peaceful finale to Venezuela’s ongoing crisis.
Even with noble intentions, the U.S. is placing a dangerous gamble. Blatant and abrupt intervention is tugging hard on Maduro’s greatest fears of foreign intrusion, urging unity rather than chaos among his loyalists. As he grows increasingly aware of his waning control, Maduro may be more prone to repress challengers and reject negotiations. Similarly, the International Crisis Group warned, “If Maduro retains the armed forces’ support, he will almost certainly seek to stay in power and violently crush those who are challenging him.”
Ultimately, international politics must drop. Foreign humanitarian operations must be welcomed, and for that to occur right now, it must be neutral. By associating humanitarian aid to political overthrow, Maduro may view Venezuelan volunteers as supporters of the opposition and unofficially place a target on their backs. Amidst hostility and apprehension, strictly U.S. contribution may heighten political conflicts in the crisis state and, ironically, risk Venezuelans’ access to proper aid.
On the other hand, the U.S. government defends that the plan to remove Madura from office is, by nature, humanitarian because the regime change will translate into real economic improvements for the Venezuelan people. Furthermore, our nationalism and pride in taking initiative rightfully suggest that the political implications should not be blamed on the U.S., but on the Maduro’s authoritarian leadership.
Besides, if the U.S. stops providing aid, won’t we simply be a bystander to the Venezuelans’ call for help?
While it’s historically true that backing down from a fight is not exactly an “American thing”, we must know our limits. When the risks exceed the positive outcomes, we must call in reinforcements.
That’s right, world. We need more than condemnations and threats. We need a plan and action.
With neutral foreign aid from an assemblage of nations, Maduro’s regime may be more pressured to allow aid into the country and we can temporarily address the growing humanitarian crisis. Although Russia, China, Cuba and several Latin American nations support Maduro, the countries in the international community must recognize a problem greater than political overthrow.
As for Maduro’s uncompromising regime, Venezuelans can see light at the end of the tunnel. Guiadó is already declared as interim president, and some opposition party leaders are planning a transitional government that will replace Maduro’s government. Most importantly, the street protests have grown larger and louder, garnering unity among opposition leaders and skepticism among loyal officers.
The Venezuelans understand that they must fight for democracy and freedom; they have expressed their discontent on the press and on the streets. But their faith and protests alone are not enough to crumble Maduro’s authoritarian regime. In this unfortunately realistic fairy tale, Prince Charming is not just one person and the damsel-in-distress is not helpless; here, in this world, we must work together to save each other.