Venezuela: Testing the Monroe Doctrine

Venezuela: Testing the Monroe Doctrine
AP Photo/Fernando Llano
Venezuela: Testing the Monroe Doctrine
AP Photo/Fernando Llano
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The threats that failing governments and foreign influence pose to the United States have not been the norm in the Western hemisphere. Since the institution of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the United States has opposed efforts by European and other powers to meddle in the United States' backyard, keeping a watchful eye on its neighbors. There has been much turmoil the last fifty years -- Pinochet's reign in Chile, the civil war in El Salvador, drug-fueled gang violence in Colombia, and others, are all conflicts that divided nations, destabilized the region, and engrossed the world.

Despite the violence and attention, Latin American conflicts have generated, the United States was largely successful in limiting influence from foreign nations and overseas organizations seeking to exploit these conflicts and undermine the integrity and influence of the United States. Now, the Monroe Doctrine faces perhaps its most challenging test yet: recent unrest in Venezuela. The growing discontent in the country has reached a boiling point, with the specter of civil war looming and national security concerns that threaten the safety of the United States.

To blame for this recent disorder is the resurgent cancer of socialism and communism, not new to the Western Hemisphere. One need not look further than 90 miles south of Florida to see Cuba: a state whose current complexion was born of communist revolution, nurtured barbarous dictators and violent revolutionaries, and welcomed as a military ally by the Soviets, nearly triggering a nuclear war. When Hugo Chavez tightened his grip over Venezuela at the turn of the 21st century, history knew how this story would end. But the predictable rise and fall of socialism in oil-rich Venezuela now creates a danger we have not seen in our hemisphere since the Cold War.

The proud people of Venezuela have witnessed what socialism provides to a country: empty promises, rampant poverty, widespread corruption, and hopelessness. Their cries for freedom were silenced by bribes and force at the hands of Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. Free elections were touted but marred in such overt corruption that would be laughable if the consequences were not so dire.

On January 23rd, the hope of the nation turned to Juan Guaido, the opposition leader and President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, who took the oath of office as Interim President of Venezuela. This peaceful, constitutionally-valid shift of power has flipped the suffering nation on its head.  Since then, President Trump and allies across the world have pledged support for Guaido and have left all options on the table with respect to lending aid and military intervention in the country to ensure his security and authority as leader.

Freedom, however, is not easy to gain or preserve, as Americans discovered during our war for independence some 244 years ago. On the ground in Venezuela, violence, and unrest have intensified as many military leaders remain loyal to President Maduro. Local government institutions have been paralyzed, and a people already crushed by a centrally-planned, corrupt economy have nowhere to turn for help.  As if to say, "Let them eat cake!" Maduro's forces have barricaded major highways to stop the flow of relief from neighboring countries.

Most troubling however may be dueling threats from major geopolitical adversaries that put the safety of our hemisphere in jeopardy. Russia has sent bombers to Venezuela in support of the Maduro regime – a provocative show of force that harkens back to the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  As global support for Guaido grows, so does Russian resolve to prop up a failed despot.

Further testing American dominance of the Western Hemisphere is another sinister force lurking in the shadows: radical Islamic terrorism.  For years, reports of burgeoning terror cells popping up in Latin America have made their way into newspaper headlines, with the most recent example involving the growing presence of Iran-linked terror organization, Hezbollah, in Latin America. The ever increasing instability within Venezuela offers fertile grounds for these terror networks to take root and grow amid a nation made susceptible to radical proposals offered by fanatical organizations in the face of social and economic collapse. Consider: there remains air travel between Caracas and Tehran, and American intelligence has little way of knowing who all are on those flights. Should bad actors from the Middle East's largest state-sponsor of terrorism with intentions of harming the United States make their way to Venezuela, what will that mean for the United States and the continent at large?

If terror organizations find safe-haven on the streets of a failed state in South America, the threats to our homeland become incalculable.  Crossing into the United States via our southern border, once difficult, has been made easier by assistance from international non-profits, failure to enforce and reform current immigration law in the United States, and "Coyotes" – individuals guide those seeking entry into America across the border for a fee. This has already been made manifest in the formation of migrant caravans comprised of hundreds if not thousands from all over Latin America seeking asylum in the United States in mass numbers, regardless of the validity of their claims. The political class' failure to seriously address this immigration problem is a dream come true for international terrorists, drug smugglers, and other criminals seeking to cross our borders -- with smuggled arms, drugs, diseases, and more – to then harm the American people.

So where do we go from here? First, we must recommit to the Monroe Doctrine and assure Interim President Guaido that we, as well as our partners and allies in the region, have his back. This means potentially mobilizing both naval forces and ground troops in areas of strategic importance to signify not just our support for the Guaido presidency, but also to send the message that foreign interference in our hemisphere will not be toleration.  Our aim is not to violently provoke but to firmly warn.

Second, we must finally secure our borders.  On top of violent drug trades and human trafficking that pose a risk to people throughout the American continents, our border is now facing an even graver security threat considering recent developments in Latin America. Our southern neighbors have proven incapable of controlling migration across their borders, unable to filter out narcotics and criminals in an acceptable manner before they invariably arrive at ours. Every day that passes where our border is left unsecured while tensions mount in Latin America, American workers and their families face an ever-imminent threat to their work, their communities and their way of life.

The current situation in Venezuela is a new and evolving crisis for the Americas the likes of which have not been seen since when John F. Kennedy was president.  The success or failure of the Guaido presidency will depend on the shared ability of the U.S. and our allies to pressure Maduro to leave office and cede power to Guaido.  If we do not take care of our nation's homeland security in the meantime, the fallout from potential catastrophe in Venezuela in the near-future will spell disaster for the entirety of Latin America and significantly harm the United States. The time to act is now, and I believe these recent developments give ample justification to do just that.


Congressman Banks serves on the House Armed Services Committee and is an Afghanistan veteran.   He also serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and House Committee on Education and Labor.



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