The prudence of Trump's remark is debatable. What's not debatable, however, is the outright hypocrisy demonstrated by Latin American leaders who seized upon the president's remarks as an example of Yankee imperialism and saber-rattling – all while conveniently ignoring Cuba's veritable colonization of oil-rich yet impoverished Venezuela, where a Cuban-sponsored socialist nightmare has created a humanitarian crisis and incipient dictatorship.
Cuba -- not Trump -- is the real trouble maker in Venezuela. Yet Latin American leaders turn a blind eye to Cuba's meddling.
Some history is worth recalling. After coming to power in 1959, Cuba's dictator Fidel Castro saw Venezuela as a prize in his quest to spread a communist revolution throughout the region. Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's firebrand president, made that dream possible. Thanks to sweetheart oil deals brokered by Chávez, Cuba's economy got a vital lifeline -- and Cuba in return provided behind-the-scenes advice to Chávez and successor Nicolás Maduro, a bus driver-turned politician. Early during his first term, in 1999, Chávez declared that Venezuela would sail toward the same “sea of happiness' as communist Cuba.
Since Chávez's first term, Cuban intelligence agents have operated at the highest levels in Venezuela. "Cuban agents train Venezuelans in both Cuba and Venezuela, providing both political indoctrination and operational instruction,” U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield, based in Caracas during the Chávez years, wrote in a memo released by WikiLeaks. Yet Latin leaders turn a blind eye to it all while disparaging Trump as the real danger to their sovereignty.
As for oil-rich Venezuela, 50 years ago it fended off a Cuban-sponsored invasion – the so-called “Machurucuto Incident.” On May 10, 1967, a dozen guerrillas were discovered on the beach of Machurucuto, a coastal town 70 miles east of Caracas, the capital. Fresh from paramilitary training in Cuba, the group consisted of Cubans and Venezuelans. Their goal was to train Venezuelan guerrillas in Venezuela's Andes to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Raul Leoni.
The plot was foiled when a Venezuelan fisherman noticed an overturned raft and contacted authorities. Troops from the Venezuelan Army and National Guard arrived, and during the ensuing battle ten guerrillas were killed and two captured. Venezuela subsequently broke relations with Cuba for the next seven years.
While Latin elites deplored Trump's saber-rattling, his remarks no doubt gave hope to ordinary Venezuelans who no longer believe that calls for “dialogue” will reverse Venezuela's slide into a dictatorship, now that President Maduro has used a sham referendum to convene a national assembly to rewrite the constitution.
While the news media spun Trump's remarks as reckless and played up criticism from Latin leaders – from Columbia to Peru to Uruguay – the president nevertheless got a boost from CIA Director Mike Pompeo. During an interview on Fox News Sunday, he said that Trump was merely trying “to give the Venezuelan people hope and opportunity to create a situation where democracy can be restored.”
He explained, “The intelligence makes very clear the Maduro regime continues to put snipers in towers and do things that are horrible, repressive, and the American policy is to work with our Latin American partners to try and restore democracy.”
The CIA director also warned that Venezuela's could “very much” become a risk to the U.S. “The Cubans are there; the Russians are there, the Iranians, Hezbollah are there. This is something that has a risk of getting to a very very bad place, so America needs to take this very seriously."
Venezuela's shady cast of characters will assume an ever larger role as the South American nation slides into complete failed-state status – a kleptocracy and narco-state where a handful of well-connected Venezuelans are getting rich from oil revenues and drug trafficking facilitated by military officials and political leaders. For them, promoting socialism and playing the anti-American card has been very profitable.
One of Venezuela's drug kingpins is none other than Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela's executive vice president, who was recently hit with financial sanctions along with a number of other top Venezuelan officials. “He facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela,” noted the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. His assets include properties in Miami and a U.S.-registered private jet.
Ultimately, the "military option" controversy is less about Trump than about the pathologies of the region – pathologies that were amusingly described in the non-fiction book, "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot." A bestseller in many Latin American countries, and written by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner, and Alvaro Vargas Llosa, the book observed: "For the Latin American idiot, Yankees...are the scapegoat to which all blame must be transferred. Because of them we aren't rich, wise, or prosperous. Because of them we can't secure that wonderful place we deserve in the assembly of nations.
It is difficult, to be sure, to envision the type of military operation that might work in Venezuela. But at least Trump's remark about deploying a “military option if necessary” is the sort of language that the leaders of a socialist thug state will understand.
David Paulin, an Austin, TX-based freelance journalist, covered Hugo Chávez's rise to power while based in Caracas as a foreign correspondent. He also reported from the Caribbean while based in Kingston, Jamaica.