The enigmatic and eccentric Tyler Durden, said in the classic film Fight Club, that the objective of the oxygen masks in airplanes is not to oxygenate you, but to drug you, so that you would be unconscious as you confronted a tragic death. Although the statement written by Chuck Palahniuk has never been verified, it is a perfect metaphor to understand what is happening in Venezuela with some politicians from both sides, who, in the midst of ideological disputes, numb the population to bring then to a certain death, while they prolong the conflict and in the meantime get richer.
It is true that a military intervention would be anything but simple. For a military power like the United States, taking Nicolás Maduro out of office by force would be the easy part. The serious problem would be the next phase: rebuilding thereafter. Political analysts, military strategists, and journalists have tried to explain what would be involved in a military intervention in Venezuela. Their forecasts are mostly tragic, and yes, it is true, the outlook for Venezuela looks complicated after a military intervention. Nonetheless, in no eventuality is the picture much better with Nicolás Maduro remaining in power for one more day.
The vast majority of analyses place great emphasis on the devastation that would be involved with an armed war in Venezuela. However, these “analysts” are unwilling and/or unable to measure the consequences of a group of drug traffickers and terrorists remaining in power.
Undoubtedly, a military intervention in Venezuela of any kind is risky for the future, but no transition involving the Chavista dictatorship will be easy.
Let’s evaluate the different scenarios we might see with an eventual transition:
A transition based on dialogue will not happen. The course of 20 years of Chavismo should be sufficient proof of that.
A transition with defections from top brass at the Armed Forces is likely. The question is, do Venezuelans want a situation in which Padrino López leads the transition? What would be the benefit of this scenario?
There is also the possibility of a transition with an internal uprising of armed combatants, led by young soldiers, deserters from the regime. The question here is, will they be able to withstand the guerrillas and drug cartels in Venezuela? Can they neutralize the collectives and the ELN? Would they have enough deterrent power to maintain order while the country stabilizes?
With transition through a foreign military invasion, here we will reiterate: no transition with Chavismo will be easy, just as the breakup of any relationship is never easy; especially one that is harmful and toxic. With a pervasive mafia presence in Venezuela, eradicating these criminal structures will not be easy; it will hardly take a matter of days. The problem is not in getting Maduro out of Miraflores, but in getting the new occupants of Miraflores to stay there and exercise power. It is estimated that the paramilitaries and collectives (irregular armed groups that support Maduro) have about 100,000 members; although it is difficult to determine the accuracy of these figures, and really they amount to a group of small criminal gangs. If a foreign intervention occurs there is a great risk that small anarchic states will be established in parts of the Venezuelan Republic. An American presence will be criticals to help maintain peace and rebuild institutions in the coming years.
Another fundamental aspect to take into account is the amount of casualties that this could cause. Any death is regrettable, but Venezuelans have been struggling to defend themselves, unarmed, against these irregular groups in a conflict in which more than 300,000 Venezuelans have lost their lives.
There is always the possibility that a military intervention of precision could be executed, according to Frank O. Mora of Foreign Affairs; in Venezuela, an operation of this type would require operations in the air, at sea, and in cyberspace. The United States Navy would have to park an aircraft carrier off the coast of Venezuela to impose a no-fly zone and attack military targets and crucial infrastructure. The navy would also need to deploy a group of battleships and, perhaps, submarines that could launch a steady stream of Tomahawk missiles at military targets, such as air bases, air defense facilities, and command and control centers. However, these analyses should be taken with a grain of salt, because before going on to assess the strategic military actions that the United States would take, it is necessary to consider: will the Venezuelan Armed Forces really remain cohesive in the face of an imminent invasion? And with imminent, of course, we are not referring to aggressive communications, but to the launching of an operation that brings arms, ships, and aircraft carriers closer to Venezuelan borders.
In such a scenario, it would be hard to believe that the poorly fed soldiers that the Maduro dictatorship has left will defend their own misery, and this is a statement repeated by members of different state security forces: any foreign skirmish, will prompt mass desertion. For example, the arrival of foreign aid convoys on February 23rd, led to 1,000 Venezuelan troops crossing the border into Colombia.
The greatest obstacles with respect to US military action are these: first, Trump’s image before the next elections, and second, the cost of the military action: recent military interventions led by the United States, in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, by 2017 had cost more than USD $1.8 trillion dollars, and more than 7,000 US service members lost their lives. Although these numbers are not encouraging for the Venezuelan cause, the alliances of Chavez and Maduro with terrorist groups have emerged as a key issue as well. It is up to the United States to determine whether it prefers to save money and put its security at risk, or invest in having a more secure backyard and recover an economic and political ally.
No government would be doing Venezuelans a favor; it is neither pity nor compassion. The terrorist and drug trafficking presence that Venezuela is encouraging in the region poses a threat to American interests.
We must also highlight the enormous difference involved in military operations in the Middle East and in Venezuela, a culturally Americanized country, where baseball has always been the national sport, where the national cinema until a couple of years ago was from Hollywood, where a growing community sees Miami as the extension of their homeland, and where the likes of Obama, Clinton, Reagan, and Kennedy are not frowned upon.
Hardcore religious fanatics in Venezuela do not exist, there are no Sunnis and Shiites, nor a territorial struggle. The only thing that exists is many Venezuelans dying of hunger who would not mind becoming part of the United States backyard, as long as they could once again have money to eat, enjoy public services, and have the opportunity to travel once a year.
There are estimates that indicate that 90% of Venezuelans want Maduro’s exit from power. However, there is no consensus as to how that should happen. The military intervention predicted by analysts to be an apocalypse strains credulity.
We should also mention that if Maduro remains in power, it is estimated that 8 million Venezuelans will have left the country by next year. The hyperinflation rate will continue to increase, the absence of the electricity service will continue, the shortage of water and fuel will continue and will be exacerbated, and the economy will continue to implode, making it increasingly impossible to survive in Venezuela.
My impression is that faced with an imminent attack, the army of Maduro would retire quickly and Maduro and his cronies would flee without a fight. There will be various armed groups and militias in this scenario, and the United States military would have to remain in Venezuelan territory for a while, but at least the Russian and Cuban security intelligence forces would be expelled, and little by little the reconstruction of the country would begin. I would imagine, dream and desire, that it would be a country with freedoms, without censorship, without political prisoners, with a free market, capitalist economic system, where effort is rewarded and there are the right incentives for work, which in turn would boost the repatriation of Venezuelan human capital, which has known been scattered to the four corners of the earth.
I must insist, for some who want to treat us as unsuspecting or ignorant, yes, a military intervention will bring consequences. It will leave fire and ashes in its wake, but a non-intervention will put us in the hands of the airplane pilot imagined by Tyler Durden: a pilot who is drugged and lacks real aviation skills, who now seeks to drug the crew and passengers and put them to sleep while they await a certain and bloody death.