It’s Time for a Coup in Venezuela
Only nationalists in the military can restore a legitimate constitutional democracy.
Now that Venezuelan autocrat Nicolás Maduro has engineered his re-election in what reasonable observers have decried as a sham vote, it’s impossible to say how long he will remain in office. But the United States and its allies should lay the groundwork for the remaining portions of the Venezuelan government not beholden to Maduro to take the choice out of his hands.
Nearly two decades of creeping authoritarianism and large-scale economic mismanagement have taken a staggering toll on Venezuelans. Moreover, with reports of low voter turnout in an otherwise stage-managed electoral process and rising military dissension, clearly the Maduro regime is “taking on water,” as Juan Cruz, the National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in May at a panel discussion hosted by the Council of the Americas.
But if time is running out, it’s less clear exactly for whom: the Maduro regime or those struggling for a restoration of democracy in that benighted country? After all, Cuba — which serves as Maduro’s ideological mentor — has demonstrated that a strategy of forcing out the discontented and subjugating the rest, while muddling along with a dysfunctional economy, can sustain an authoritarian regime for decades.
The question thus becomes, as the New York Times editorial board wrote, “how to get rid of Mr. Maduro before he completes the destruction of his country.”
First, we should recognize that dialogue or diplomacy cannot bring a resolution to the Venezuela crisis. By now, it’s evident that the Maduro regime has no intention of negotiating itself out of power and only sees such opportunities as maneuvers to buy time.
Second, we must admit that the only institution capable of instigating a real political transition in Venezuela is the Venezuelan military. As the Economist put it, “[Maduro’s] future will be decided by the armed forces, not directly by the people. If they withdraw support from his beleaguered regime, change will come soon. If not, hunger and repression will continue.”
Of course, no one wants to see a regression to a Latin American Dark Age, in which military coups are the norm, at the expense of civilian rule and democracy. But it is important to note that identifying the Venezuelan military as the only logical change agent is not to advocate for a coup. The fact is, a coup has already taken place — perpetrated by Maduro and his Cuban advisors against the country’s constitution. Only nationalists in the military can restore a legitimate constitutional democracy.
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