McLean column: When is the right time to intervene?
Venezuela was the first country in South America in which I worked. I went there many times, traveling all over the country by car and air. When I first visited, Venezuela was relatively wealthy. Venezuelans who traveled to Miami or came to a class I taught in Arizona were called the tribe “Dame dos, ‘ta barato” (Give me two, it’s cheap). Their currency was strong and they bought luxury goods in quantities.
The last project in Venezuela I worked on was during the Chavez regime. It was a bridge project near Ciudad Bolivar over the Orinoco River. The general contractor on the project was required to pay a considerable sum to a witch doctor sent by the Chavez regime to “bless the project.” A Chavez union organizer sold jobs on the project to workers. One, who paid and did not get a job, shot and killed the steward at the main gate of the project.
A few months later, Chavez nationalized a client’s business in Ciudad Ojeda. Tanks were sent to his yard, and the owner, whose family had the business more than 50 years, was thrown out. The construction yard and shipyard were turned over to Chavez supporters. The work they had done maintaining the PEDEVESA oil wells in Lake Maracaibo was turned over to untrained Chavezitas. As a result, the wells have not been properly maintained and production is down.
Recently, during a discussion of Latin America, we watched an Al Jazeera video on Venezuela. They called it the end stages of socialism.
Although I was aware of the problems in Venezuela, I did not realize the depth of the decay. Famine, lack of water, no electricity and crime is rampant. It saddened me to see it. Venezuela is rapidly becoming a failed state. While socialism was blamed, the real cause was the failure of leadership. Chavez was a bad leader. Maduro who succeeded him is worse.
In our discussion, the group wondered if intervention was a viable option. We all agreed that it was not; making me wonder when as a nation we should help those in need.
As individuals, most of us will help family members in need. Many extend help to their friends and neighbors. The most generous help those in need whom they do not know. We are fortunate in this valley to have those who support our charities like Youth Entity, Valley View Hospital, Salvation Army and numerous other local charities.
As a nation, when do we help others? Is it only when it is in our national interest? Would it not be in our national interest to bring stability and peace to countries in crisis if we can? Are we willing to make the commitment necessary to do that?
As a nation, we helped Germany, Japan and South Korea after those wars. It is often stated that nation building does not work. It worked well in those countries because we made a long-term commitment and independent partners in Germany and Japan.
Would we have intervened by now if Venezuela were on our southern border? Would we have intervened in Rwanda had that genocide occurred in Europe to a largely Caucasian population? Would we have stayed the course in Lebanon and Somalia were they more important to our own national interests?
Before we intervene in any country we need to determine if we have the national will to make a long-term commitment for success. We failed in Vietnam because we were a divided nation unwilling to make that commitment. We have been failing in Iraq because we did not consider the long-term consequences, did not prepare for governing once the invasion was over and left too soon. We cannot fail the people of Afghanistan by repeating those mistakes.
Reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini gives one a perspective on the horrors of the last few decades in Afghanistan. In the ’70s Afghanistan was a relatively stable, peaceful country. Through a coup, then the Soviet invasion, subsequent civil war that terminated with the rise of the Taliban, the people, especially the women, were subjected to decades of brutality and violence. When the Americans came and pushed out the Taliban, conditions improved considerably.
Since then, we have allowed the Taliban to re-form and take back territory. Shame on us. The worst type of intervention we can make is a half-hearted one that gives the people hope that we then dash by our lack of commitment.
We entered Afghanistan for our own national interest in preventing the country from allowing Al Queda to train and initiate attacks on us from there. Currently the Colorado National Guard is deploying to Afghanistan. We need to support those troops and insist that our government give them the tools they need to succeed.
Returning to Venezuela, I can see no manner of military intervention. It might be possible to buy off Maduro and his henchmen. Promise them a princely sum and a safe haven in Cuba. He might resign and allow the duly elected opposition party to take office. Of course, there would of necessity need to be consequences if he did not accept the deal.
Not all intervention must be military.
Roland McLean, an Aspen Glen resident, is a University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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