Why Flounder Over Ukraine When We Can Be Frustrated by Venezuela?

At least this strife-torn country is closer to home, though no easier for outsiders to fix.


Venezuela protest in Caracas

Tensions escalate as a soldier is fatally shot in the head during a clash with protesters. Government forces seize a hotly contested public square long occupied by demonstrators, only to see opponents of the regime return in reconstituted form. The country's economy teeters on the edge of collapse under the weight of deep corruption and profoundly intrusive state policies. And the nation's posturing, yet elected, leader points to a powerful foreign government as the source of his regime's problems of legitimacy and basic competence.

Welcome to…Ukraine? No, this is closer to home: Venezuela under the rule of President Nicolas Maduro, a leader every bit as thuggish as his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, but with even less charm. With Venezuela in our own hemisphere, why venture to the fringes of Europe to find a heartbreakingly divided and failing nation that defies easy solutions by Americans?

President Obama may talk about the need "to support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity; to help Ukraine stabilize its economy and conduct fair and free democratic elections," but with Russia as the well-armed neighboring giant biting off a piece of the country, there's little that officials in the United States and other nations can do but make official protests and threaten personal and economic sanctions against Russian officials and interests.

Venezuela comes pre-sanctioned. The government's impressively inept socialist policies have created shortages of such staples as flour, cooking oil, butter, milk, and diapers. In response to complaints about high prices (caused by soaring inflation and currency restrictions), the government essentially looted electronics stores to temporarily buy off the mob. Unsurprisingly, many businesses closed after the feeding frenzy.

Venezuela protest
Creative Commons/Wikimedia

Obama and company could just proclaim such economic wreckage to be the goal of American sanctions and declare victory—it's more effective than the official policy is likely to achieve in Ukraine. Not that regime change or even policy change is a likely outcome of U.S. efforts in either place. Both countries are mired in difficulties, the solutions to which don't clearly emanate from Washington, D.C. Fixes in either nation are almost certainly going to have to be locally sourced.

Part of the problem in both Ukraine and Venezuela is democracy. That is, both places suffer the aftermaths of elections that, however troubled, demonstrated strong popular support for inconvenient and even awful outcomes.

Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was the winner of the last round of balloting, however unfortunate his victory might have been. His preferred-by-the-West successors gained office via means of questionable constitutionality, to the extent that matters. And while the near-unanimous results of Crimea's vote to join Russia seem a tad…dubious, even granting the limited options offered, it's highly likely that the region, with historical ties to Russia, would have voted to realign its borders even if the voting had been conducted by more rigorous standards.

Nicolas Maduro

Likewise, Nicolas Maduro may enjoy gaming the system just as much as his predecessor did, with press restrictions and arrests of opposition leaders, but that's not the same thing as saying he lacks popular support. As with Hugo Chavez, Maduro and his supporters continue to win most electoral battles—albeit, with a thumb on the scale and a willingness to submit to ballot decisions largely dependent on the likelihood of victory.

Which is to say, plenty of the locals are perfectly happy with the conditions that American leaders want to change. And plenty of the locals are really unhappy with those conditions, too. Intervening in any way is just a recipe for brewing more conflict and strife.

If we're going to pick an unfortunate country suffering under questionable political leadership, divided by popular differences of opinion, and unlikely to resolve its issues simply by going to the ballot box to do the urging of U.S. officials, we don't need to focus our attention half-way around the world on Ukraine. Much closer to home, Venezuela also has problems that can only be solved locally, although American politicians bluster about them and potentially make them worse.

Certainly, a country in our own hemisphere rates as much impotent attention as one so far away.

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  1. Why don’t we mind our business and Let Venezuela be Venezuela and let Ukraine be Russia (or whatever).

  2. We should restrict our attention to our own hemisphere! Oh, wait…

  3. Both are excellent warning that will probably go unheeded.

    Ukraine wasted their chance at security. If they could got their political act together, they could have joined Poland and others in Nato and the EU. But their corruption and political instability made them easy meat for Putin to undermine and tear away the most valuable part of the country.

    Valenzuela is even dumber – they voted themselves into this shit and still haven’t tried to fight their way out of it.

  4. So why not Cuba, Mexico or even Quebec?

  5. You Know Which Other Locals Are Happy about Things Libertarians Want To Change?

  6. “Valenzuela [Venezuela] is even dumber – they voted themselves into this shit and still haven’t tried to fight their way out of it.”

    I believe that the first time when Chavez was elected in 1998 this was true. I have serious doubts about the other elections, and utter disbelief as to whether Maduro was truly elected. Jimmy Carter may have “observed”, but Jimmy Carter is also the world’s doormat-iest ex-president.

    But you may be right, Venezuelans have perhaps been too patient. When they fought before they were silenced by accusations of a CIA plot. The events on the ground in Venezuela were either ignored or twisted to fit leftist journalists and the media’s preconceived notions of what they lazily presume to be happening.

    This time at least there is social media and thousands with cellphones, so Maduro has a much harder time squelching information on events in Venezuela. He cannot anymore claim that it is only a few wealthy people, or only the middle class, or only in a few neighborhoods. “The Revolution” may not be televised, but these massive protests will be recorded by ordinary citizens on cheap cellphones and disseminated throughout the world.

  7. Drake, if all you are seeing is reports in US media, you probably have not seen the photos of literally millions in the streets all over Venezuela marching in peaceful protest.

    You probably have not seen the thousands of students in peaceful protest being bombarded with teargas, water cannons, the butts of rifles and kicks of boots, and even live bullets. You probably haven’t seen cellphone videos of military tanks in neighborhoods and National Guard firing teargas into the homes of sleeping people at 3am. Or of children cowering behind a makeshift barricade of chairs and desks in their classroom, weeping softly, less they alert the rampaging paramilitary thugs outside. None of this has been in mainstream media here, but it is available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. Not opinions, theories, speeches, actual recorded events.

  8. It’s really strange that a hand full of crafty crooks could lie and cheat their way to power and gain control of an entire country.

    Couldn’t happen here, though.

  9. As PJ O’Rourke said “These guys [politicians] didn’t get to where they are by being dumb enough to tell the truth to reporters.”

  10. I dug into this issue again to do my essay today because situation seemed to change drastically. I have to evaluated all processes happened and give my estimation on countries’ future.

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