The humanitarian arguments for ousting Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro are overwhelming.
Through a sickening mixture of corruption, ineptitude and malign authoritarian rule, Maduro has impoverished his oil-rich country, debased its democratic institutions, stifled its media and employed deadly force to punish peaceful opponents.
His cruel, destructive presidency has driven more than three million suffering Venezuelans into exile. And largely because of him, what should be one of the world’s most happy and prosperous nations is on the verge of social, economic and political collapse.
Given the urgency of this crisis — millions of Venezuelans are going hungry and without proper medical care — there should be no question that since Maduro will not voluntarily step aside he should be compelled to leave office. The only question that needs an answer — and it is huge — is how.
An American military intervention to expel Maduro increasingly seems the preference of a hawkish U.S. President Donald Trump, even though such an invasion could quickly spin out of control, destabilize South America and transform a national disaster into an international one. This would be a historic blunder.
Far better is the emerging international coalition of countries, in which Canada is playing a leading role, that is as committed to replacing Maduro, but also convinced that concerted, external but non-military pressure is the only way to make it happen. Canada furthered this more promising cause Monday when it hosted a meeting of the Lima Group, an association of 14 mainly Latin American countries trying to free Venezuela from Maduro’s grip. That gathering in Ottawa also included many European diplomats.
Some critics dismissed this initiative because Canada, like most other Lima Group members, has recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president until a fair election is held.
Since the Americans have also recognized Guaido as interim leader, those critics accuse the Lima Group of behaving like Trump’s trained lapdogs. That harsh judgment is unjustified. Far from being an overnight response to a hemispheric challenge, Canada was an early player in the movement to stop Venezuela’s slide into chaos and possible civil war.
With Canada’s full support, the Lima Group came together in 2017 to deal with the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. Eschewing outside military intervention, the group hopes to effect a regime change with more peaceful measures that include targeted sanctions against Maduro and his cronies.
The Lima Group is also urging other countries to denounce Maduro’s presidency as illegitimate because of last May’s presidential election — which was widely condemned as an undemocratic farce. This strategy is achieving some success. The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands, Austria and Poland all recognized Guaido as interim president on Monday.
The hope is that this growing and broadly based international opposition to Maduro will get results by convincing enough Venezuelans in positions of power that Maduro’s time is up. This past weekend, a highranking Venezuelan air force general declared Guaido to be the country’s legitimate leader as thousands of protesters hit the streets to demand new elections.
A peaceful, positive resolution that ends Venezuela’s agony is far from inevitable. The always unpredictable Trump could opt to invade, which would only make life even more miserable in Venezuela in the short-term.
But Canada and all the other nations lined up against Maduro can and should discourage the Americans from launching a military intervention. Indeed, the more countries that do this, the more likely it will be that Maduro leaves office peacefully. And while his departure would still leave plenty of nasty despots in this world, at least there would be one less.