Venezuelans need aid, not the Marines

By John Dale Grover

On November 1, National Security Adviser John Bolton gave a speech calling Venezuela part of a “Troika of Tyranny.” This followed previous reports that President Donald Trump was considering a military intervention to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. However, Venezuela is a humanitarian disaster, not a security threat. Sending in the Marines would be unnecessary, unproductive, and costly. Instead, Trump ought to focus on solutions that actually work, including direct humanitarian aid, coordinating international assistance, and helping to set up refugee camps in neighboring countries.

Two to four million people—between 7 percent and 12.5 percent of the country's population—have fled Maduro's socialist dictatorship. If America wants to alleviate the situation, it should first provide direct humanitarian aid in the form of medicine, food, doctors, and social workers. Offering assistance would put diplomatic pressure on Maduro and highlight his government-made disaster. If he accepts help, then many Venezuelans will see their situation improve, but if he rejects Washington's offer, then the world has further proof of how little Maduro cares about his people. 

Regardless, Trump should also increase assistance to regional governments. This can be through grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to trusted international nonprofits but also by working with allies and the World Bank to disburse aid. Aid from well-regarded international organization and institutions would be better than funneling money directly from USAID to local governments. Moreover, assistance is needed as refugees increase demand on local resources from everything to healthcare and disease prevention, to basic food and shelter. Funding could also be made available to help refugees move to other countries that aren’t as saturated. By coordinating these efforts, America would lead a global commitment to help those impacted by Maduro’s regime.

Historically massive migrations of displaced peoples result in social tensions and even political instability. The right thing to do is to help Venezuela’s displaced and the neighbors that are generously hosting them. This is especially true for Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Uruguay—all of whom are now feeling the strain. Furthermore, in August violence broke out in Brazil against refugees and Columbia and Chile are backtracking their visa policies.

Already, Columbia asked the International Monetary Fund to ease the burden on countries accepting Venezuelans. To back its proposal, Bogotá completed a survey that found over 870,000 Venezuelans had fled to Columbia. Of those, only 382,000 are registered while another 442,000 are undergoing the process—the remaining 46,000 have not begun the process. Trump should back such proposals for aid from host countries and listen to what is needed.

Finally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are 72,722 Venezuelans seeking asylum in America. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and international humanitarian law, there are different procedures for asylees and refugees, but their status is similar. Those seeking asylum must request it in-person at a port of entry or after physically arriving in the United States. Refugees can only request admission from abroad by contacting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or UNHCR.

Either way, asylees and refugees must meet the definition of a refugee to be allowed entrance to America. That definition is “a person outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

However, most displaced Venezuelans do not want to live elsewhere. They want to eventually return home when conditions allow. This means America should let in those they can, but should also help local governments integrate Venezuelans who claim refugee status or asylum, while maintaining camps for the vast majority who intend to return.

These common-sense policies would contribute to solutions on the ground and cost less than a military intervention. One lesson that America's leaders have struggled to learn from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan is that forever war is a losing strategy.

Venezuela is a jungle country bigger than Iraq or Afghanistan. Taking out Maduro is one thing, yet preventing anarchy and installing or assisting a new government is another. And that's not even considering pro-Maduro guerillas, thousands of Venezuelan soldiers, or the status of the starving, sick, and displaced Venezuelan people.

About 90 percent of Venezuelans now live in poverty, with their economy halved and inflation nearly at one million. Is the United States prepared and able to stabilize Venezuela’s economy? Will U.S. forces be properly trained and equipped to help repatriate a flood of returning refugees in an orderly fashion? Can America heal the wounds of a foreign land ripped apart by tyranny? 

Washington must not get involved in another war and reconstruction effort that it cannot handle. Instead, America should offer direct aid, coordination an international humanitarian response, and assist Venezuela's neighbors in housing and caring for those who have fled. Washington should also continue to put financial and diplomatic pressure on Mauro. But nothing more.

 John Dale Grover is a fellow with Defense Priorities and a writer for Young Voices. He is also the Assistant Managing Editor at The National Interest. His articles have appeared in The American Conservative, Fox News, and Real Clear Defense.

This piece was originally published by Real Clear World on November 10, 2018. Read more HERE.