You Asked, We Answered: What's Happening in Venezuela?

Feb 15, 2019

From massive shortages of food and medicine to an interim president and possible U.S. intervention, the situation in Venezuela has been complex and fast moving in recent months.

We asked readers and listeners to share their questions about what's going on in Venezuela to let us help you make sense of it all.  

Here are some of the frequently asked questions, answered by WLRN's Latin American correspondent Tim Padgett. 

Q: Why does it matter to America what happens in Venezuela?

A: It matters to the United States because of hemispheric stability. As long as Venezuela is causing such a humanitarian crisis in the southern part of our hemisphere, that just causes a lot of political and economic instability that causes problems in terms of trade, immigration, drug trafficking. All those things that the United States worries about in this hemisphere that just causes a lot of problems.  

Other than economic sanctions, what other pressure tactics will be used against Maduro?

Aside from economic pressure, the only other pressure really left to the United States and other countries that are not recognizing Maduro any longer as president, is some sort of military intervention. And very few people, if any, see that that as a real option. Most people simply feel it would cause more problems than it would solve. So if the economic sanctions don’t work, then it’s a real question that really no one can answer as to what we can do next.

Being that the bridge allowing the humanitarian aid to pass is blocked, what is the possible next move? 

Short of any sort of military-style move to push that aid into Venezuela, there really is no other option available to the United States and other countries to get it in. Perhaps one way is to have Venezuelans come over the border into Colombia, get the aid and bring it back. But that’s already been happening for the past two or three years. And if Venezuelans were to try and take aid that large back into Venezuela, the possibilities of it getting confiscated by the military and other Venezuelan officials is very large. So if the Maduro regime is blocking those bridges and other border entry points as they seem to be doing now, again, no one really knows what the real viable option for pushing that aid in Venezuela would be.    

I think it's fair to say President Trump's interest in Venezuela runs to the ground — he is interested in [their] oil only! 

Well, I would take issue that President Trump's only interest is in oil. I think we always have to take into account when a country is as oil rich as Venezuela is, that it has the largest oil reserves in the world, that there is going to be interest on the part of countries like the United States to have an investment stake in that resource. But I think one of the things that’s really driving this policy aside from oil and other economic considerations are political considerations. President Trump and the Republican party seem to have the idea that if they can overthrow the leftist regime in Venezuela and in the process Cuba and Nicaragua, because those two countries depend quite heavily on Venezuela, it would be a real political boon to them, particularly in Florida, where you have such large Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan populations. So this is very much a political perhaps even more a political consideration for President Trump than a consideration of oil and economics. 

How much support among the people does Maduro still have? 

Very, very little. And the only thing that’s keeping in power is the loyalty of the military. Without the loyalty of the military, he would not be in power any more. He is the most hated leader, I think, Venezuela has had in a long long time. You’d have to go back to the 1950s and the last dictatorship Venezuela had. A general named Marcos Pérez Jiménez and he was finally overthrown in 1958. But even he, I don’t think, was as hated as Maduro is because even though he was a brutal dictator, he at least kept the economy running and kept the infrastructure of the country intact. Maduro has no only been a political dictator. He’s been an economic catastrophe for Venezuelans.

Are there any plans in what to do with Lopez Padrino and his clan which have allowed Maduro to stay in power?

Lopez is the defense minister and he is the top military official in Venezuela and therefore he, and I should add, he and a man who is considered the number two power in Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, who also has a military background. He and Padrino are the military figures who are keeping Maduro in power. As long as they feel its economically beneficial for them to back Maduro, they will probably keep the military loyal to them. You also take into account, it’s not just economics. Both Padrino and Cabello are two very ideological socialists. They’re almost robotic in their commitment to the ideological cause. So, I don’t know what more the United States can do to convince them to abandon Maduro. I think we’re just going to have to see if the economic sanctions particularly the oil sanctions we’ve placed on Venezuela will dry up the supply of money for the regime to the extent that even these guys say this is no longer sustainable, we have to drop Maduro. 

How can this problem be solved?

There is no simple solution to this problem. There is never a simple solution to dislodging dictatorships. This policy that we’re undertaking right now is a double edged sword. In the short run, it’s been very exhilarating. It’s been very impressive to see how it has put Maduro’s back against the wall and thrown him off kilter. I think a lot of people didn’t expect this and it has been very impressive in that sense. The problem is the long term, will it work in the long term in actually dislodging him?