Ron Paul has long been a hero of mine. He has been a tireless advocate for free markets, free minds, and free people. This is why it pains me to write that his assessment of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Venezuela is dead wrong.
Paul is outraged that the U.S. government would, in his words, “orchestrate a coup” to overthrow a democratically elected leader in Venezuela. He called for the United States to stay out of the situation entirely: diplomatically, economically, and, of course, militarily. Paul cites grievous threats to Venezuela’s rule of law and sovereignty.
Why is a leading libertarian voice supporting a Communist dictatorship supported by a small fraction of the population over a free market-oriented, libertarian-minded opposition that enjoys massive popular support? And why is he adding insult to injury by shrouding his arguments in language of legality?
Paul Pleads For Rule of Law In a Nation Without Laws
There is no rule of law in Venezuela anymore. Is Paul possibly not aware of this? The rule of law exists only for Chavistas––those who support the statist and socialist policies that have ruined this once prosperous nation of 30 million (ironically the very policies that Paul has spent 40 years railing against during his career in Washington).
Nicolas Maduro is not a democratically elected leader. All of his electoral victories were unquestionably government-perpetrated frauds. His government has routinely banned opposition political parties, jailed popular opposition politicians, and committed widespread acts of mass murder. Henrique Capriles Radonski should be the current president of Venezuela. The election was stolen from him by the Chavista-dominated National Electoral Council.
Paul has painted himself into a preposterous corner, whereby he is supporting the legitimacy of a leader who represents everything that is antithetical to the libertarian tradition: corruption, kleptocracy, nepotism, a complete absence of any free market principles or capitalism, crackdowns on freedom of speech and the press, and outright criminality, including politically motivated murder.
Ask the family of Fernando Alban about that. In October 2018, the popular opposition politician was thrown from an eighth story window to his death at the headquarters of Venezuela’s intelligence services, SEBIN. Opposing the Venezuelan government is tantamount to a death sentence.
Maduro Has Virtually No Popular Support
I speak regularly with Venezuelans. When we discuss how many people actually support the Maduro dictatorship, they regularly suggest the number hovers at around 10 percent (and that is likely being generous). The only people who support the government in Venezuela are being bought with food, or are working at the behest of the Venezuelan military’s “Cartel of the Suns” that turned the country into one massive narco-state.
Of all of Maduro’s despicable acts, the politically charged weaponizing of food is likely near the top. Those who profess allegiance to the government get food. Those who do not are welcome to starve. Not to mention: Maduro’s mafia are drug traffickers and thieves.
Maduro and friends are hardly the leaders of your garden-variety Latin American dictatorship, banana republic, or crony capitalist kleptocracy. No other government in modern history has turned prosperity to ruin so rapidly , mainly by theft of state resources for personal enrichment. Maduro and his criminal allies are leeches on Venezuelan society.
The money is long gone. Maduro and his band of murderous thieves have stolen it and stashed it away in foreign bank accounts around the globe. Hugo Chavez’s daughter, who has no record of any employment, is currently the richest Venezuelan, with an estimated wealth of USD $4.2 billion. Now, how did she amass that fortune?
The Venezuelan people starve and eat zoo animals, while Venezuelan elites and military officers loot state resources with impunity, and live lives of astounding luxury. Maduro’s adopted sons were arrested in Haiti trying to export $20 million dollars of cocaine. In sworn testimony they admitted it was to fund their family’s political campaigns: those of Nicolas Maduro and his powerful wife, Cilia Flores. Now they are serving 18-year sentences in U.S. federal prison.
A Popular, Unified, Democratic, Free-Market Opposition
Paul argues that our interventions have often led to disastrous consequences. I don’t dispute that. Vietnam and Iraq were our greatest foreign policy blunders in modern history. In Vietnam, we were propping up a corrupt and inept South Vietnamese government that was little better than its northern counterparts. In Iraq, we were attempting to force democracy on a society that is interested mainly in Islamic jurisprudence and perpetuating sectarian and inter-ethnic conflict.
But here is the big difference between Venezuela and Iraq and Vietnam. Venezuela has a real opposition, supported by the overwhelming majority of the people: people who are literally dying to rise up against the corrupt narco-state that has stolen the future of 30,000,000 Venezuelans.
The National Assembly is a legitimately elected body that represents the will of the people, and believes in democracy, free markets, human rights, and freedom of speech. Furthermore, they are not involved in large-scale drug trafficking.
U.S. Sanctions Targeted Maduro, Not the People
Paul argues that the collapse of the Venezuelan economy is not, in fact, the fault of Maduro, but rather due to supposedly crippling U.S. sanctions.
This is beyond laughable. Sanctions are hardly the problem. The sanctions only apply to top Venezuelan officials, who have been proven to be involved in extensive drug trafficking, money laundering, and looting the Venezuelan state. Under the tenure of Chavez and Maduro, per-capita gross domestic product has fallen to an utterly pathetic USD $3,300 per year. That is lower than Paraguay ($5,600) and Bolivia ($3,353), long the poorest South American nations.
In fact, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner, both for imports and exports. They export their oil to the United States, while we export machinery, automobiles, clothing, food, construction materials, and a host of other items to Venezuela. Approximately 34 percent of Venezuelan exports head to the United States, while nearly 25 percent of Venezuelan imports come from the United States. There is brisk business between the two nations.
I blame Paul’s rather lackluster “report” on Venezuela on a lack of research and understanding. He is not a Latin America expert, and he is trying to apply the lessons learned from other foreign conflicts to a rather dissimilar situation.
Paul has bought hook, line, and sinker, the Communist propaganda of the Maduro criminals and their “Hands off Venezuela” campaign, the same tripe that Cuban Communism tried to use to make us believe that the embargo was solely responsible for their miserable standard of living and abject poverty.
The Real Coupmongers Are Chavistas
Paul claims that we must respect Venezuelan sovereignty, as incarnated by Maduro. Is he possibly not aware that Hugo Chavez led a violent military coup in 1992 with the central aim of murdering the democratically-elected president Carlos Andres Perez?
Chavez did later win a democratic election, then proceeded to systematically dismantle democracy over the course of his 14-year tenure. Adolf Hitler won a democratic election, and subsequently proceeded to dismantle German democracy as well. By Paul’s logic, then, taking on Nazi Germany in World War II was a grave violation of German sovereignty and meddled with the rule of law.
Paul claims that interim president Juan Guaido is a U.S. stooge, without providing any evidence. Paul argues that this is yet another case of Washington, DC foolishly saying that we need to “install our guy and everything will be OK.” Hardly. Guaido is not “our guy,” and there is no indication that his intent is to do Washington’s bidding.
In fact, Guaido is seeking to negotiate with Moscow and Beijing, arguing that they are better off with him in charge. He appears to be making some headway on that front. His case is strong: Russia and China, given their considerable investment in the country, would be better off with a Venezuela that is up and running again.
But, whether there are sanctions or not, Maduro will not help with Venezuela’s economic recovery. Putin’s support for Guaido is now more political, and less economic: he revels in sticking it to the United States. Guaido, however, cares far less about foreign policy (beyond the Cuba question), and far more about returning Venezuela to democracy and functioning markets. He will do what is right for the Venezuelan people, not what is right for the United States.
The World’s Democracies Are Backing Guaido
Paul also seems to conveniently ignore that virtually every democratic free-market nation on the planet does not recognize Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Rather, he is currently being propped up by the worst of the world’s Islamist, socialist, Communist, and authoritarian regimes, all of which spit at and scorn every principle that Paul has fought for his entire life.
The countries that continue to recognize Maduro include Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, Laos, China, Bolivia, Turkey: places where economic, social, and political freedom is unheard of. The only reason that these dictators, tyrants, and authoritarians back Maduro is that they know that he will back them.
Paul may believe he is standing on principle (and of course he is hardly a fan of Maduro), but he is cutting off his nose to spite his face. Don’t hold the Venezuelan people hostage because of the mistakes of a previous administration in Iraq.
Maduro has no popular support, the Venezuelan military will collapse sooner or later (more than 600 defected last week), and other than the drug-trafficking generals who stand to lose their ill-gotten billions, the rank and file soldiers will hardly be backing Maduro to the death. They will scatter in the wind.
Perhaps Paul feels he must stick to his non-interventionist guns, but his abandonment of the Venezuelan people in their time of need will not be easily forgotten. Plus, he’s failing to recognize the great opportunity for libertarian thought in the region.
If anything good has come out of Venezuela’s 20-year socialist nightmare, it is this: the South American continent, from Brazil to Argentina, and Colombia to Chile, has clearly and forcefully rejected the failed ideologies of socialism and Communism. South America’s young people are crying out for a new dawn of social, political, and economic freedom.
They will now remember Dr. Ron Paul as the American “libertarian” who is essentially saying “we should just let Maduro do whatever he wants…he is the legitimate leader of Venezuela…our hands are tied.” That is a shame and a tragedy.