U.S. State Department Shackles Target Maduro’s Venezuela Kleptocrats

June 3, 2020 Updated: June 3, 2020

Commentary

That Venezuelan socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro remains in power is a testament to his military’s guns, secret police repression, torture of his pro-democracy opposition and the malign charity of four buddy dictatorships, Russia, Iran, Cuba and China.

As late as January 2020, the month during which a Maduro ally hired fancy lobbyists to gull Congress into easing sanctions, the prospects for sending him into Cuban exile looked better. Bipartisan applause greeted Maduro’s arch Venezuelan enemy, Juan Guaido, when Guaido attended the State of the Union address as a White House guest.

Guaido was the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly when it was still a democratically elected forum. Maduro stole the 2019 election. Braving Maduro’s guns, the assembly declared Guaido “interim president.” The United States helped form a 59-nation coalition to support him. The coalition called Maduro’s reelection illegitimate and demanded he resign: a bold, diplomatic endeavor to topple the tyrant, and a gamble worth trying, considering the regime’s destruction.

The U.N. estimates that since 2014, some 5.5 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country—roughly 17 percent of the population. Decades of socialist bungling and kleptocrat theft have wrecked what was once South America’s wealthiest nation.

However, early 2019’s “illegitimacy” strategy wagered Venezuelan soldiers would defect to Guaido en masse.

In 2020, the military continues to support Maduro. Why? The ranks participate in the regime’s theft racket, so obedience pays in cash and privileges. Maduro’s clique has maintained control over major economic assets, like oil production. Regime military loyalists control food distribution and deny food to his opponents. However, they are willing to sell starving citizens food and, presumably, toothpaste, for cash—the bribes paid in jewelry, euros or dollars.

Add a fatal reason. Skilled Russian and Cuban security personnel protect Maduro—and they can threaten senior officers who might jilt the jefe.

In January 2020, 75 U.S. Army paratroopers deployed to neighboring Colombia to participate in an exercise with Colombian forces. In diplo-speak, it was a reminder of U.S. capabilities.

But in February, following a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Maduro announced he was ready for war. He did not fear combat! Lavrov obviously had confirmed solid Russian support for his regime. Venezuelan oil reserves are collateral with “future value” that can buy powerful friends like Cuban bodyguards, even Russian and Chinese U.N. vetoes. According to U.S. government sources, Russian oil interests broker 60 percent of Venezuela’s oil and help conceal export destinations. Oil exports pay the regime. Yet domestically, Venezuela faces gasoline shortages.

In March, the State Department countered. U.S. prosecutors indicted Maduro on drug-trafficking charges. Washington offered a $15 million reward for Maduro’s arrest.

Alas, on May 3 (perhaps May 2), a farcical incident occurred. Mercenary soldiers and Venezuelan military defectors—perhaps 60—entered Venezuela. Some mercenaries were former Green Berets. It appears the planners had read Frederick Forsythe’s brilliant novel “The Dogs of War.” Their operation, however, was The Dunces of War. Two dozen were quickly arrested, eight killed. One American said seizing an airport and arresting Maduro were objectives.

Maduro railed for a week. Guaido denied involvement. The attack does have the smell of a false flag operation.

But here is the deep news. Since the farce, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made it clear that Washington is escalating its diplomatic and economic war on Maduro.

On May 13, Venezuela and Cuba reappeared on the U.S. anti-terrorism Not Fully Cooperating Country list. The United States accused the Maduro regime of harboring rogue Colombian guerrillas and terrorists. In diplo-speak, Venezuela is waging covert war on its neighbor. That will add stiffer sanctions.

On May 20, Pompeo announced “Venezuelans in need” (refugee camps) would receive $138 million in humanitarian assistance. On May 29, he reaffirmed American commitment to Guaido’s leadership.

On June 2, once again, U.S. diplomats attacked the oil choke point by imposing sanctions on four companies involved in smuggling Venezuelan oil.

The goal of these political and economic shackles: to reduce the reward for obeying Maduro’s noxious regime.

Austin Bay is a colonel (ret.) in the U.S. Army Reserve, author, syndicated columnist, and a teacher in strategy and strategic theory at the University of Texas. His latest book is “Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.