President Donald Trump isn’t going to let Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, who has already turned his once-rich country into a starving basket case, turn his streets into a bloodbath.
At this critical juncture in history, Trump is providing the leadership that may come to define his legacy, standing unequivocally behind the Venezuelan people as they seek to liberate themselves from the socialist dictatorship and its Russian, Chinese, and Cuban puppet masters.
The facts on the ground are unclear, as they always are in such moments of political upheaval, but the moral and strategic considerations at play are certain. Maduro lost the legitimacy he needed to govern long ago—even as a pseudo-democratic socialist dictator. What little legitimacy he had left after his rigged re-election fled him the moment Juan Guaidó, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, was released from his brief detention by Maduro’s secret police and accepted the legislature’s decision to appoint him interim president of Venezuela.
The uneasy truce that once existed between the destitute people of Venezuela and the increasingly isolated remnants of Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution”—who pillaged the country’s wealth for their own benefit—cannot be reestablished.
The die is cast. The only way forward is to challenge the status quo. That is why Guaidó, standing before a group of Venezuelan soldiers loyal to his constitutional leadership, announced the “final phase” of “Operation Freedom” on April 30. The people of Venezuela, supported by courageous elements of the military and security forces, have answered that call, occupying the streets of Caracas and challenging the Maduro regime for mastery of the nation.
Given these facts, Trump must be prepared to fulfill the obligations of U.S. leadership in the Western Hemisphere, first laid out two centuries ago in the Monroe Doctrine, as Latin American nations began to follow the United States’ example by declaring independence from their colonial masters.
There is only one moral choice a U.S. president can make: side with the people, with freedom, and with constitutional Democracy against a brutal, illegitimate government that is willing to run its own citizens down with armored vehicles in order to maintain its power.
Trump has risen to the occasion, throwing the moral and diplomatic weight of the world’s only superpower behind Guaidó and the Venezuelan people.
The fate of the Venezuelan Republic must ultimately be decided by its own people, but it’s crucial that they have allies who will stand up for them on the world stage as they struggle to take control of their own destiny. The battle lines have been drawn, and the differences between the opposing sides couldn’t be more clear.
On one side stands a dictator who has already shown his willingness to use violence to maintain his rule, backed by whatever elements of the Venezuelan military and irregular forces that remain under his control, along with the material support of Russia, Cuba, Iran, and other authoritarian powers.
On the other side stands a popular movement supported by virtually every nation of the free world, who have followed Trump’s lead in recognizing Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Guaidó and the Venezuelan people now know they have the unequivocal support of the Trump administration.
Already, the president has issued a stern warning to Cuba, warning that “if Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba.”
As Vice President Mike Pence told the Venezuelan protesters on April 30, “Estamos con ustedes! (We are with you!)”
Steven Rogers is a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer and a former member of the FBI National Joint Terrorism Task Force. He is a member of the Donald J. Trump for President 2020 Campaign Advisory Board.